Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Louisiana Longshot by Jana DeLeon

First Sentence:  I stepped off the Learjet at the private airfield just before dawn.
     
When CIA agent, Fortune Redding, assassinates the brother of a Middle Eastern arms distributor, ruining a perfectly good pair of Prada stiletto heels in the process, the result is a price on her head.  To protect her, she is sent into hiding at the small-town-Louisiana home of her Director's niece, one Sandy Sue Morrow, a former beauty-pageant winner.  What could go wrong when one is trying to fit in, solve a local murder while, and stay undercover.

Now and then, one hits a reading slump and needs something light and fun to get moving again.  This was it.  It was a delightful surprise and a lesson that one is never too old to listen to one's mother when they recommend a book to read. 
     
DeLeon has a voice full of sass and sarcasm—"I stared down Main Street and grimaced.  It was a cross between a Thomas Kinkade painting and a horror movie."—and defines the protagonist.  But beware, the neighbors, particularly Gertie and Ida Belle, who is president of the Sinful Ladies Society—"I looked outside and saw a crowd of gray-haired women bearing down on the restaurant.  Sixteen of them, probably from the Jurassic period…"--aren't what one expects either, which is so refreshing.  In fact, none of the characters are, including Bones, the very old hound who is true to his name and finds the human bone initiating the murder investigation.
     
The author captures a small town perfectly where everyone knows your business almost before you do.  Her pragmatism about religion is delightful—"Religion was by and large constructed by men, and I had yet to find a man who was logical.  Deconstructing religious rules would definitely be a journey into madness."  But it is also the south where food plays an important part—"'Give me the Seven Deadly Sins."'  Eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, gravy, pan-fried potatoes, and pancakes.  I could practically hear my arteries hardening."
     
There are wonderful, laugh-out-loud moments, which is such a treat, especially when the scene isn't silly, but clever and relatable. But there is also a wonderful moment of self-realization—"Good Lord.  I was actually pretty.  Like Mom."
     
It's not all light and fun, however.  There is a murder to solve, and a handsome cop with questions to evade.  There are good insightful observations and truisms—"Clearly, people were the biggest complication life threw at you."--well-done information on Fortune's past, and surprises and twists right through to the end. 
     
"Louisiana Longshot" is a delightful book.  DeLeon cleverly avoids a number of stereotypes.  The characters are wonderful, the humor is perfect, not slapstick, and the twists are plentiful and well-executed.  It really is a well-done introduction to a series which should be fun to continue.


LOUISIANA LONGSHOT (LicInv-Fortune Redding-Louisiana-Contemp) - VG
      DeLeon, Jana – 1st in series
      CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform– Jun 2012

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

First Sentence:  Marsh is not swamp.

Kya Clark, aka Marsh Girl, virtually raised herself.  Her ability to watch and learn, and to depend on her North Carolina marsh allowed her to survive. When the handsome son of a prominent family is found dead, Kya is accused of his murder.  But was it an accident? Did she kill him?  Only with the help of others might Kya survive this, too.
      
An author who paints pictures with words is one to be savored.  Owens does just that and does it beautifully.  There is a strong, lyrical quality to the writing—"Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother."
      
The author does employ devices one may find annoying: multiple POVs and time fluctuations. Give it a chance, however. Before long, one may find oneself thoroughly captivated and willing to overlook those things.  Instead, one becomes immersed in a wonderful story filled with interesting characters, a setting which engages all the senses and emotions, and a desire for some real Southern cooking—"The aroma of sausage and biscuits, boiled turnip greens, and fried chicken thankfully overtook the high smell of fish barrels lining the dock. … Behind the counter, owner-cook Jim Bo Sweeny darted from flipping crab cakes on the griddle to stirring a pot of creamed corn on the burner to poking chicken thighs in the deep fryer…"
      
Owens' descriptions are magnetic. She knows how to engage the reader—"There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot."  It is not all description.  The author creates interesting, strong secondary characters, including Jumpin', his wife Mabel, and particularly Tate—"His dad had told him many times that the definition of a real man is one who cries without shame, reads poetry with his heart, feels opera in his soul, and does what's necessary to defend a woman." One also learns the meaning of the title, and celebrate Kya's successes—"I wadn't aware that words could hold so much.  I didn't know a sentence could be so full."  Wouldn't one love to remember when one had made that discovery?
      
Although there is a slight sense of fantasy about the plot, one can't help but be entranced by Kya's strength, courage, and perseverance—"I have to do life alone.  But I knew this."  But it's not all misty light.  Owen's takes us into Kya's feelings of being confined and through the trial, which was well done. 
      
The book isn't perfect.  The actions of one character don't always ring true and one may start to feel a bit manipulated. However, there is no question but that one's emotions become completely engaged to the point of possibly shedding tears at the finale; not a sad cry, but a lovely-ending cry.
      
"Where the Crawdads Sing" is a very good book.  It may not be the best book ever written or that one has ever read, but it is one of those rare books which will stay with one a long time. It will be interesting to see what Owen's writes next.

WHERE THE CRAWDAD SINGS (Myst/Novel-Kya-North Carolina-Contemp) – VG
      Owens, Delia – 1st book
      G.P. Putnam's Sons – Aug 2018

Monday, August 26, 2019

A Better Man by Louise Penny

First Sentence: "Merde."
      
Inspector Armand Gamache may be bruised by the events of the past, but he is not beaten.  He may no longer have the authority he once did, as evidenced by those in charge ignoring his recommendation to keep citizens safe from the rising river waters due to torrential rains, but he still has the respect of the team who once reported to him, and of his son-in-law and temporary superior, Jean-Guy Beauvoir.  A fellow officer is concerned about the disappearance of her close friend's daughter who, she suspects, is in an abusive relationship.  Being assigned to lead the investigation brings Armand into the triple dangers of an angry man, his father-in-law, and nature.
      
Let's get this out of the way; the book begins with profanity.  However, considering the situation for both artist Clara, whose career is at a crossroads, and the team in the Serious Crimes Unit, it is well justified and nothing more than most of us have said.
      
Whether it's a bistro in Three Pines, a conference room in the Sûreté du Québec, or standing by a raging river, Penny draws one in and makes one feel present in the environment and in the community of people associated with each. Even for those who may be discovering Penny with this book, her writing, and inclusion of just enough back story, makes one feel welcome and up to date with the people and situations.
      
Penny's descriptions aren't merely visual, they are emotional and anthropomorphic—"The waters were rising up, not in protest but in revenge."  Yet in the midst of danger, there is humor such as that inspired by an old dog—"'Your dog shook,' explained Beauvoir.  'Oh, dear.' 'Yes.  That's pretty much what I said as I washed myself off and scraped down my desk.  Gosh, I said, Bit of a mess.' His eyes widened in a crazed look, and Lacoste laughed."--and Gamache's complete inability to understand anything said by Billy Williams with his thick, regional accent.  For those who live in areas affected by natural disasters, it is poignant to see the characters contemplate what things they'd take were they being evacuated and faced with the loss of everything else they own.
      
While the plot is strong, compelling and deals with difficult issues, it is the characters which keep readers engaged. None of Penny's characters are stereotypical or unimportant.  Each is fully developed and complex.  Each has a purpose in the story. Gamache is the depiction of a person one should aspire to be.  Through him, Penny gifts the reader with the four statements that lead one to wisdom—"I was wrong. I'm sorry. I don't know. I need help."--and the admonition of poet Seamus Heaney Noli timere, "Be not afraid."  However, it is somewhat reassuring that even the best people have weaknesses. 
      
Circumstances, pain, grace and self-awareness have matured Jean-Guy. His relationship with Gamache is complex, deep and abiding, one which has survived many conflicts and internal struggles.  What is interesting is that Penny uses the character of Billy as the eyes to see the true strength of the relationship, understanding, and love that Gamache has for Jean-Guy.  It is also the communities of Three Pines and of the team at the Sûreté which demonstrate the solidity of the wider circle. 
      
There is wisdom to be found within the story—"Before speaking…you might want to ask yourself three questions…Is it true? Is it kind? Does it need to be said?"--followed by a very human reaction to fear—"Don't pee, don't pee, don't pee."  There is also well-done forensic information which is interesting and informative. However, there is also a very good plot twist and a very dramatic climax.
        
The book is a mystery and a very good one.  One may not figure out what had happened until the reveal.  And there's suspense and twists which cause one to catch one's breath.  But as always with Penny's books, it is about the characters; about relationships; strong, toxic, messy, or just forming.  It is about compassion and conscience, growth and change.  It is about us; we complicated humans. Penny's ability to describe emotions is unmatched.
      
"A Better Man" is an excellent book in an outstanding series.  It presents one with a lot of here, here.  There is suspense, humor, and things which make one think—"Things are strongest where they are broken." The ending touches the heart and may bring tears to one's eyes.  Most of all, it leaves one wanting to re-read the series from the beginning while wanting the next book right now. 


A BETTER MAN (PolProc-Armand Gamache-Canada-Contemp) - Ex
      Penny, Louise – 15th in series
      Minotaur Books, Aug 2019

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Bark of the Night by David Rosenfelt

First Sentence:  Frank Salvio checked into the hotel under an assumed name, using fake identification.
      
Truman, a healthy French bulldog, was left to be euthanized at the veterinary office where attorney and rescuer Andy Carpenter takes his dog. Truman is chipped, but the man who dropped him off is not his apparent owner. When Andy finds the owner has been murdered, it sets him off on an interstate investigation involving far more than one bulldog.
      
The first thing to know is that, in spite of the cute dog on the cover, this is no cozy.  Dead bodies abound.  The other thing to know is that, in spite of their number, the murders aren't described in gruesome detail.
      
From the very beginning, the case is delightfully twisty, almost a bit too much so.  Rosenfelt engages the reader and ensures one wants to know what happened as much as do the characters, and there are a lot of characters.  This is one time when a cast of characters might have been helpful.
      
It is those on Andy's team, of which there is a good, succinct introduction. who are quirky and enjoyable.  Everyone should have a Marcus in their life—or maybe not.  Most of all, there's Andy.  There's something rather delightful about having a protagonist who is a picky eater, not a crack shot, or a boxing/martial arts expert but is, in fact, a bit inept, and admits it.  Even when he tries to lose at a game, he accidentally wins.
      
Andy's, and Rosenfelt's, expertise is the law.  It is interesting learning how an investigation team goes through a location of interest and it is those details which provide veracity to the plot.  A well-written courtroom scene can provide tension.  What is nice is that he explains the process and legalities along the way and that he writes very good dialogue—"Am I doing down for this?" he asks, the fear evident in his voice.  "You're sitting here in handcuffs, Joey.  You're already down.  We're about to start digging you out."
      
The explanation of what is behind all the deaths is a terrifying one, all the more because of its believability.  The escalation of the plot's timetable makes things exciting and tense.  The only slight complaint might be that after everything which has occurred, the ending seemed too quick and the subsequent actions of the person behind it all seemed unlikely. 
      
"Bark of the Night" has more bodies than some small towns, yet very little actual violence.  No, it's not the best of the series, but Andy Carpenter fans will still find it an enjoyable read as much because the proceeds help support the Tara Foundation.  

BARK OF NIGHT (LegalMys-Andy Carpenter-New Jersey-Contemp) – Good
      Rosenfelt, David – 19th in series
      Minotaur Books – July 2019


Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Truth Behind the Lie by Sara Lövestam

First Sentence:  The rain was so strange the day they took Julia.
      
Kouplan is a young, very young, Iranian refugee who needs to stay in the shadows.  To earn money, he works as a Private Investigator to those who can't involve the police.  Pernilla, a single mother recently split from her husband, desperately seeks Kouplan's help.  Her daughter has disappeared and, for reasons of her own, fears going to the police.  The deeper Kouplan digs into the case, the more he questions whether things are as he has been told.
      
Lövestam has created a very intriguing opening.  Both the protagonist and the client are as mysterious as is the case.  The author does a very good job of making one want to know more about who these characters are.  Due to Kouplan's background, Iranian proverbs are included which injects realism into the character—Cho istadei, daste oftade gir … As long as you are standing, hold out a hand to those who have fallen." There is also interesting imagery—"As she gets up, she's dizzy and the pajamas fall to the floor.  Janus [her dog] picks them up with his teeth and as she stumbles into the kitchen, he follows her. The pajamas hang from his muzzle like a lifeless, extremely thin child."  One can be secure in the knowledge that no animals are harmed in the story.
      
The descriptions of Kouplans' overwhelming fear of being stopped by the police is almost palpable and it makes the story extremely relevant to today also giving it a universality.  One realizes the issue of refugees and their fears are common to many countries. However, though Lövestam, one is given a view of that country contrary to the idyllic version most hold as being true. 

 Though Lövestam, one is given a view of Sweden which is contrary to the idyllic version most hold as being true.  Both characters are forced to live in the shadows due to the restrictions and rules of governments—"It's unreal how he, born in a hot country to parents with double degrees, is now following a mountain of muscle while avoiding the police like a criminal in this October chill of Stockholm."  There is a lot of focus on food--"There is something special about hunger."  But this isn't the food which comes from indulgence, but from knowing real hunger. 
      
The author provides excellent twists and mysterious trails down which we're led, with a clever and "oh, my" turn of events and realization.  This is not what one usually thinks of as "Scandinavian noir," in that it lacks the usual traits related to some of those characters and contains little violence.  Instead, this is very new and different from what most of us have read before.
      
"The Truth Behind the Lie" is a fascinating book of complex, enigmatic characters where no one and nothing is as it seems. 

THE TRUTH BEHIND THE LIE (Myst-Kouplan-Sweden-Contemp) –VG
      Lövestam, Sara
      Minotaur Books, Aug 2019

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

This Poison Will Remain by Fred Vargas

First Sentence:  Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, sitting on a rock at the quayside, watched the Grimsey fishermen return with their daily catch as they moored their boats and hauled up their nets.
      
Spider bites can kill.  But three elderly men, living in one area, killed by a small reclusive spider seems more than accidental to a member of Inspector Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg's team.  As information is gathered, Adamsberg decides to investigate, a decision that causes a rift within his team.  Running an unauthorized investigation and possibly losing his best friend and right-hand man is a risk, but seeking justice is worth it.
      
What an interesting opening to have the protagonist, the former commissaire of the Paris Serious Crimes Squad, on a quay in Iceland.  Adamsberg's respite doesn't last long before he is called back to his team who knows him well—"Lieutenant Veyrenc…knew that when the commissaire was in charge, the squad was like a tall sailing ship, sometimes with a brisk wind behind it, other times becalmed and its sails drooping, rather than a powerful speedboat churning up torrents of spray." 
     
For those who have read previous books in the series, there is a feeling of coming home.  For those who have not, Vargas conveys the sense of the team members and their loyalty, from the very start.  And what a quirky team it is, filled with affection and respect, right down to the cat and Mathias, a character from her "The Three Evangelists" series.  It's interesting seeing Adamsberg go through the case and the evidence with the team, which adds veracity to the story.  The verbal exchanges often make one smile—"It's called Le Curé de Tours, The Priest of Tours."  "Thank you,' said Estalère warmly…'Still Balzac didn't bust a gut making up the title, did he?'  'Estalère, one doesn't say of Balzac that "he didn't bust a gut".'
      
As an historian and an eukaryotic archaeologist Vargas wrote a definitive work on the bubonic plague, and her knowledge certainly contributes to the story's plot.  There is certainly nothing usual or ordinary about this case to which Adamsberg is attracted, as well as the realism of having the squad working more than the one case.  There are very good twists and an escalation in the depth of the crimes involved and in the tension within the team. Yet it is all the characters, which are the core of the story, including Louise Chevier and Adamsberg's brother, a revelation in his own life, and the return of the imagery of a ship, which keeps us immersed in the story. Vargas plays fair with the reader.  As Adamsberg begins to put the pieces together, so may we.
      
It is very difficult to quantify Vargas' work.  She takes one into the world of the best, most unique police squad one will ever find although some similarities may be made to Christopher Fowler's "Bryant and May" team. 
      
With "This Poison Will Remain," Vargas has created a story filled with delightful imagery, a unique plot, and a truly touching ending.  For those who like the unusual and quirky, reading Vargas can be addictive.   

THIS POISON WILL REMAIN (PolProc-Comm. Adamsberg-France-Contemp) - Ex
      Vargas, Fred (translator, Siân Reynolds) – 7th in series
      Harvill Secker – Aug 2019

Monday, August 5, 2019

Almost Midnight by Paul Doiron

First Sentence:  I passed the coroner's meat wagon on the way up the hill to the prison.
      
Maine Warden Investigator Mike Bowditch receives a request from inmate Billy Cronk, a former friend he helped imprison for murder. Billy wants him to investigate a new female prison guard who then suffers a brutal attack.  Another call comes from a mountain community where wolf-hybrid Shadow has been shot by a crossbow and is barely clinging to life. The two investigations endanger Mike's life, as well as his loved ones.
      
Doiron has a wonderful voice—"It was one of those New England hamlets with a full graveyard and an empty schoolhouse.  Half a mile from my place, a crumbling old farm had an actual family plot in its front years. No wonder the dump had scared off potential buyers for the past decade."           
      
One thing which would have helped would be for the author to have explained more about the role of the Maine Warden Investigator, but that could be due to this being the 10th book in the series.  For those interested, there is a good explanation.  That didn't necessarily detract from the plot, but knowing the role provides a bit of clarity.
      
The change of scene from the prison to the situation with the wolf is very effective.  One almost has a sensory reaction to it.  That takes skill, and Doiron has it.
      
What is nice is that this is not the Maine of tourists. This is the Maine of those who live inland, in the parts of the state tourists don't see where life, and the people, can be hard. It's survival country of hunting, fishing, and now, drugs.
      
Doiron characters are strong and interesting, particularly Mike's girlfriend Maine State Trooper Danielle "Dani" Tate, and Alcohol Mary.  He also has a wonderful way of making one truly care about Shadow, the hybrid wolf, and making one feel Mike's emotions.
      
While the plot is exciting, full of twists and danger, it truly is the author's style which keeps one engaged.  Doiron's humor—"Across the room, I could see her children, the four platinum-blond Cronklets, ages five to ten… Someone had tuned the TV station to a financial news network, and the five backwoods ragamuffins were watching it with the intensity of day traders waiting for the next bit earnings report to drop."—is subtle, but it works.  He has an excellent ear for dialogue—"I am required to ask this, Mrs. Gowdie. …I need to know if you own a crossbow."  "Who do you think I am, Maid Fucking Marian?"--, as well as a sense of insight—"When my own heart started to break, I lifted my face to the sky, letting the flakes melt as they landed on warm skin, admitted my own arrogance and ignorance, and surrendered to the mysteries of a universe I knew I would never comprehend."
      
"Almost Midnight" has very good characters and well-done suspense.  Wonderful dialogue, a great turn of phrase, and a nice touch of emotion may make one decide to read the series from the first book, as well as future books to come.

ALMOST MIDNIGHT (WardenInvest-Mike Bowditch-Maine-Contemp) - VG
      Doiron, Paul – 10th in series
      Minotaur Books – July 2019

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Heavy on the Dead by G.M. Ford

First Sentence:  The door burst open and banged against the wall.
      
Private Investigator Leo Waterman destroyed the plans, men, and millions of dollars in materials and equipment of a white supremacist group.  Badly injured, Leo and his androgynous friend and protector Gabe, have taken refuge to recover in Ocean Beach, California, trying to keep a very low profile.  Finding a body on the beach, and being bitten by a homeless man, propels Leo into an investigation which takes the pair into Mexico and the world of sex trafficking, caught between two groups out to kill them.
      
Ford does create unique characters. From those one has met before, such as Gabe and other Seattle characters; to Chub and Lamar—one hopes never to meet them.  Who else would think up a guy with an afro and a barcode tattooed on his forehead?  But then there's SDPD officer, Sergeant Carolyn Saunders.  She is someone of whom one would love to see more in the future.  
      
Ford's perceptiveness—"Borders are lines in the sand.  Bloody lines. Lines that people fought and died for."—is equally effective in dark and light situations—"You know how people like to pretend they're more familiar with places than they really are … That was us. …neither of us wanted to admit we didn't quite remember the way…so we'd …wandered …for half an hour before realizing our mistake and sheepishly asking a truck driver for directions." He takes one places one would like to think don't exist; places one doesn't want to see where life is as one hopes never to experience.  But it is his humor which creates balance—"Take the 5 to the 8 … then over the bridge into Mission Bay." "Ooooh … don't we sound like Californians now," I joked."
      
The plot has a slowly-building flame with a very good intersection between the two threads of the plot.  What's nice is that it's not all action.  Ford also makes one stop and think along the way.  Still, he does take the story from crescendo to crescendo.  When things get serious, they get very serious and uncomfortably relevant to today's issues, which are important and handled extremely well.
      
"Heavy on the Dead" is one cracking good, fast-paced, suspenseful story.  It is exciting, but it's way more than an airplane book due to its focus.  One thing is for certain: one never gets bored reading Ford.


HEAVY ON THE DEAD (PI-Leo Waterman-California/Mexico-Contemp) - Ex
      Ford, G.M. – 12th in series
      Thomas & Mercer – July 2019


Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Deep Dive by Chris Knopf

First sentence:  "I know I should call the police immediately, but I wonder if you wouldn't mind popping over for a moment to discuss before I do."
      
Sam Acquillo, cabinetmaker, part-time private investigator, and full-time resident of Eastern Long Island, used to be part of the one percent and still has some friends who are.  Burton Lewis was a houseguest of Joshua and Rosie Edelston.  Another guest, Elton Darby, a fundraiser for the charity Volunteering with Love, aka the Loventeers, has been found dead with Burton's watch in his hand.  What begins as an investigation to clear his friend, grows to a case involving the FBI, a trip to post-Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico, and a journey back to Long Island to unmask a killer.
      
Knopf provides an excellent short history of Sam which segues nicely into his current relationship with Amanda Anselma and Sam's trusty dog, Eddie Van Halen.  Sam's background is what makes him such an interesting, well-rounded character.  He is fully capable of taking care of himself in a dangerous situation but is just as inclined to toss in the appropriate Latin phrase, and introspection—"You've heard it noted that time is a river, though what is overlooked is all the sediment the river leaves behind, diverting the path, obscuring recollection." Having been part of both sides of the socio-economic spectrum has given him an understanding not found in everyone.  He can even be forgiven, perhaps, for one point where he could be perceived as a bit of an idiot about his relationship with Amanda, but that's up to one's own opinion.
      
Sam's trip to Puerto Rico is a turning point in the plot and presents a hard view, and real understanding, of the conditions there today.  It also takes the plot into a deeper, very serious and relevant issue.  What's nice is that Knopf offsets the serious with occasional well-done, well-placed humor, such as his description of air travel—"…park in a long-term lot about one hundred miles away, ride a tram with nervous, unhappy people, get stripped nearly naked by the TSA, find a bar near your gate, drink too much, but still get on the flight with more nervous, unhappy people…" and it goes on in perfect form.  One of Sam's other attributes is the way in which he applies engineering and design to problem solving.
      
"Deep Dive" has great characters and a good amount of tension.  It is a very well done book, particularly the final chapter.

DEEP DIVE PI-Sam Acquillo-Long Island, NY-Contemp)- VG
      Knopf, Chris – 9th in series
      Permanent Press, July 2019


Thursday, July 18, 2019

Killing with Confetti by Peter Lovesey

First Sentence:  the two short words Warren doesn't wish to hear: "It's on."
      
Ben Brace, son of Deputy Chief Constable George Brace, and Caroline Irving, daughter of professional criminal Joe Irving, are getting married as soon as her father is released from prison. Besides their son marrying a criminal's daughter, Brace is worried the rivals may see this as a perfect opportunity to remove Irving.  In order to ensure everyone's safety, Senior Detective Peter Diamond is assigned to see that all goes well.  A missing policeman and a body found in the hypocaust of the Roman baths are not what Brace had in mind. 
      
Lovesey creates the unexpected.  There is certainly nothing ordinary or predictable about the way the story begins or continues forward. Yes, there is a not-named-as-such prologue set in 2015, but it is a great entry into the story and captives one's interest immediately.  Just hang on, and its purpose does become clear.
      
Shifting quickly to present day, Lovesey's description of Carolyn's first-ever visit to her father in prison is so well done.  Her emotions are clearly conveyed.  At the same time, Lovesey knows how to start a story slowly, allowing one to become familiar with, and invested in, the characters.  Before one realizes it, the tension begins to mount as the intent becomes clear.
      
If one has not previously read a Peter Diamond book, he may quickly become a favorite character.  He is curmudgeonly, tight with money, and private about his life.  He is also observant and intelligent.  His wry humor is expressed perfectly—"They finally reached Camden Crescent, built on a slope so steep that parts of the planned structure collapsed at an early stage in the construction and were abandoned, … where another 175 properties collapsed in a landslip in 1881.  Reader, if you ever think of moving to the northern slopes, hire a surveyor."  As well as conversations with his cat, Raffles, there is lovely irony—"'We want their day to pass off peacefully, don't we?' ' Like Romeo and Juliet," Leaman said, 'Lovers from two warring families.'  "Let's hope not,' Ingeborg said. 'Romeo and Juliet ended up dead.'
      
The plot has very good twists, plenty of suspense and a well-done tie-back to the beginning. 
      
"Killing with Confetti" is an excellent traditional police procedural.  It is such a pleasure to read.  Lovesey doesn't take one down blind alleys.  He plays fair and brings all the strings together with a great reveal and final twist.

KILLING WITH CONFETTI (PolProc-Peter Diamond-Bath, England-Contemp)- Ex
      Lovesey, Peter – 18th in series
      SOHO Crime – July 2019

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robothem

First Sentence: "Which one is she?" I ask, leaning closer to the observation window.
      
Six years after self-named Evie Comac was found hiding in a secret room, the institution where she is living asks psychologist Cyrus Haven to determine whether she can be released to live on her own.  No one knows, nor has she said, who she really is or what she has experienced, but a determination must be made.  Cyrus has a history of his own with which he must deal, but his job also calls upon him to help investigate the murder of Jodie Sheehan, a popular, talented high-school figure skater. Tasked with these two cases, and his own issues, it is up to Cyrus to do what is right Evie and find justice for Jodie.
      
Unusual, quirky characters can be intriguing when they are well-written yet still realistic.  Robotham accomplishes that, and much more.  He begins with the very intriguing premise that some few people are "truth wizards," that they can intuitively know whether someone is lying.  That Evie, who is also defined as being--"…dyslexic. Antisocial. Aggressive"-- is one such person adds a dimension beyond everything through which she has been and compels one to want to know more.  Cyrus, too, has a past beyond imaging.  That the author puts these two emotionally damaged characters together demonstrates the strength of the human spirit and determination to survive.  Both characters are unique and fascinating.  Nothing about either of them is what one would expect. 
      
It's a pleasure when something causes one to stop and consider--"When I run, my thoughts become clearer.  When I run, I imagine that I'm keeping pace with a planet that turns too quickly for me."  Rather than slow down the flow of the story, it adds depth and richness to it. 
      
The story does alternate between the two lead characters.  Being inside Evie's mind can be painful to read, and all the more so for knowing there are real children who feel as she does about herself.  The descriptions of deaths are brutal but done in a way that is factual and not gratuitous or salacious. Even so, Robotham finds the perfect way to inject just a bit of wry humor—"'Who found her?' 'A woman walking her dog.' Why is it always someone walking a dog?"
      
The investigation into Jodie's death takes one down a very twisted path filled with surprises.  The only slight criticism is that the resolution seemed over the top.  What one can truly appreciate is that, even at the end, both Evie and Cyrus remain enigmatic.   
      
"Good Girl, Bad Girl" is a strong, character-driven story.  It is very well-written and filled with well-done twists. One rather hopes this is the start of a new series. Even if it's not, this is a book, and characters, which stay with one long after closing the cover.

GOOD GIRL, BAD GIRL (PsySusp-Cyrus Haven-England-Contemp) – VG+
      Robotham, Michael - Standalone
      Scribner, July 2019

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Paper Son by S.J. Rozan

First Sentence:  "Mississippi?"
      
New York City native, with a traditional Chinese mother, PI Lydia Chin is surprised when she learns she has relatives in Mississippi, including a cousin, Jefferson Tam, who has been arrested, and Captain Pete Tam who is asking for help.  It's up to Lydia, with her partner Bill Smith, to prevent her cousin from being tried for murder.
      
One just can't beat a great opening with a touch of humor, especially when it's done so well.  That's what keeps one reading.
      
For those who have followed this series, it is wonderful to have a new entry.  For new readers, welcome and never fear.  Starting here, at the 12th book, isn't a problem as Rozen smoothly brings one into the fold.
      
Rozan does an excellent job of using Lydia's family history to inform one of American history.  Learning the history of Lydia's parents adds dimension to the character and establishes the theme. She also presents a very timely observation—"there's always somebody hatin' on everybody." … "Don't everybody always think their hate is different?"
      
Rozan paints a clear picture of life in small-town Mississippi.  What is particularly interesting is learning the history of Chinese groceries in black towns which built an economy of its own.  The immigration path of Mississippi is fascinating. 
      
The characters are well-developed and interesting.  It's fun to see urban Lydia so far out of her comfort zone, and Bill take advantage of his somewhat Southern roots.  Lydia and Bill balance one another perfectly in every way.  They are yin and yang not only in race, but in size, Luddite vs technology, and food choices.  This makes them real and appealing.  Each of the other characters holds their own, as well.  There is one character toward the end that is a particular treat.
      
The plot is very well done with just the right level of suspense.  The plot does get a bit twisty, but not so much that one can't follow it, and it takes one on a fascinating journey of places and people.
      
"Paper Son" is an excellent, traditional mystery which includes delightful characters, just enough humor and a wonderful ending.

PAPER SON (PI-Lydia Chin/Bill Smith-Mississippi-Contemp) - Ex
      Rozen, S.J. – 12th in series
      Pegasus Books, July 2019

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Random Act by Gerry Boyle

First Sentence: It was December 5, a Wednesday.
      
A simple trip to the hardware store leaves reporter Jack McMorrow questioning the randomness of life.  Or is it?  His search for that answer takes him into a very dark side of Maine.  When Jack and his friend Clair go to visit Iraq war veteran Louis, they are stopped by Marta, Russian woman a bag full of money and who's prepared to shoot them.  How much is one willing to risk in the name of friendship?
      
No prologue, no narrative from a killer, no backflash; how wonderful it is to have an author who begins the story at the beginning and moves it on from there.  The sense of place is established, and an immediate threat and suspense is established as well as a strong introduction to the main characters.
      
Boyle has an excellent voice—"BBC News, the usual reports from the yawing deck of the Titanic that is our world." and an ear for dialogue that's quick and sharp.  Seeing McMorrow hypothesize the incident at the hardware store is fascinating.  He takes all the pieces and puts them back together into a whole.  Boyle echoes what most would think in this situation—"I didn't want to accept that this was normal." Yet Jack's reaction provides a very powerful explanation as to what motivates journalists.
      
Boyle is very good at laying a path of subtle breadcrumbs, but it is McMorrow's questioning of life which stands out—"We do the best we can, but sometimes we're still just squirrels crossing the road.  Most of the time you're lucky.  Other times, your luck runs out." One can also appreciate his perception that when a violent crime is committed, it is not only the victim but their family and the family of the perpetrator who suffers the cost.
      
Boyle understands mental illness.  He makes a point of portraying one of the characters as a man who has a lot of good but is ill rather than evil.  It is exceptionally well done, as are the points he raises about the price of friendship and loyalty.
      
"Random Act" is a book of two threads, each of which holds its own. This may be the most insightful book Boyle has written.  It may also be his best.

RANDOM ACT (Reporter-Jack McMorrow-Maine-Contemp) - Ex
      Boyle, Gerry – 12th in series
      Islandport Press – June 2019

Thursday, June 27, 2019

A Man With One of Those Faces by Caimh McDonnell

First Sentence: "You remember Alan, Robert's first cousin from Clare?"
      
Paul Malchrone has a face that doesn't stand out and that makes elderly people think he's a relative.  When visiting a nursing home, Nurse Brigit Conroy aska that he visit Martin Brown, a patient whose had no visitors since being admitted.  Unfortunately, Brown mistakes Paul for being the nephew of an enemy and nearly kills Paul.  This sets Paul and Brigit down a dangerous path, helped by D.S. Bunny McGarry, Paul's former mentor.  The question is whether they can survive.
      
Ah, the Irish is thick here and the author's voice plays into what one thinks of as classic perception—"You do realise that just saying 'no offence' does not magically make whatever you say inoffensive?"—and humor—"The fox was now sniffing at the sandwich it had retrieved.  Rather than eating it, it elected to urinate on it instead.  As reviews went, it was pretty damning."
     
It's the characters who truly drive the story. Paul, the granny whisperer, is delightful and quirky. When joined with Bridgit. Dr. Singh, D.S. Bunny McGarry, the lawyer's secretary, and others, and when combined with the situational humor, one can be assured of laughing through the entire book…almost.  One might even find oneself using the phrase "fair play" on occasion.
      
The plot moves along at a brisk pace and is one where everything falls brilliantly into place in the end with a wonderful rescue scene.  One should definitely read the epilogues, as well as give the author credit for some well-done self-promotion.

"A Man With One of Those Faces" does get a bit silly at times, but this isn't intended to be a serious book.  Still, McDonald does balance the humor with insight, tension, and suspense.  Happily, there are more books in the series.

A MAN WITH ONE OF THOSE FACES (AmaSleu-Paul Malchrone-Dublin, Ireland-Contemp) - VG
      McDonald, Caimh – 1st of series
      McFoir Ink – Aug 2016