Sunday, August 30, 2020

All the Devils are Here by Louise Penny

First Sentence:  “Hell is empty, Armand,” said Stephen Horowitz.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his wife Raine-Marie have come from Canada to Paris for the birth of a new grandchild.   After a celebratory dinner with their two children, spouses, and Armand’s billionaire godfather, Stephen Horowitz, Stephen is deliberately struck by a vehicle and now lies in a coma.  A grim discovery at his apartment prompts an investigation and the uncovering of family secrets leaving Armand to determine just who can be trusted.

Paris is not a city about which one can be objective.  It is a city that enthralls from the moment one arrives and, even if one never has the chance to return, it lives within one forever.  Penny has captured perfectly that sense of having found the city of one's soul and portrays it perfectly.  Even the hardcover book’s glorious end sheets, designed by MaryAnna Coleman, draw one into the beauty of Paris. Opening with lines from Shakespeare's "Tempest" is the perfect balance to the City of Light with a history of darkness.

Although not an issue for new readers, series readers may have a sense of being a stranger in a strange land having the story set outside the usual environs of Canada and Three Pines.  This was an effective decision as it is echoed by Gamache having the same sense of not knowing who to believe, who to trust.  It illustrates the duplicity of people and is effective in heightening the suspense and tension. The connections made back to Three Pines and the Sûreté du Québec are nicely done.

The mystery is well-plotted as it grows upon itself and is delightfully complex taking one down unexpected roads.  Yet, more than a mystery, this is a story of relationships, and with that comes wisdom.  

Penny employs her characters wisely.  Involving family members as part of an investigation can be risky.   However, in this case, no one is superfluous; neither are any of their roles forced or out of character.  Each has skills that contribute, and each is humanly imperfect with weaknesses and foibles.  In other words, they are real.  Even the use of an unseen, yet critical, character is wonderfully done. The theme of abandonment, which appears in various ways through Penny’s books, is heartfelt and recognizable to so many.

Penny's ability to place the reader within the story is second to none.  Sitting in the hospital, awaiting news of a loved one, you feel, hear, and smell the starkness and desperation of those who are there, and the unwillingness to give up hope.  Her use of dialogue is evocative.  The banter between Jean-Guy and Armand is always something one anticipates and enjoys, but this was lovely as well--"Please, Dad," Daniel now said. "Tell me you were a commando." "Better." His father leaned closer and dropping his voice further. "I taught commandos."

When reading Penny, there are always lines that make one stop and consider, small lessons to be learned--"It had taken Beauvoir years to see the power of pausing. And of patience. Of taking a breath to consider all options, all angles, and not simply acting on the most obvious."  She teaches one the value of seeing not only what is there, but what is not; what is real, and what is facade, and that--"People believe what they want to believe.  Beginning with their own lies."  "Hell is the truth seen too late," said Reine-Marie."

“All the Devils are Here” is Penny’s best book to date.  It is complex, suspenseful, and emotional with a small touch of the paranormal.  It has a cracking good, twisty plot--you don't see where it is going--and an excellent ending. Most of all, it demonstrates Penny’s continuing growth as an author and, I suspect, as a person. And isn’t that the goal of us all?

ALL THE DEVILS ARE HERE (PolProc-C.I. Armand Gamache-Paris-Contemp) - Ex
Penny, Louise – 16th in series
Minotaur Books, Sept 2020

Friday, August 7, 2020

A Killer's Wife by Victor Methos

First Sentence:  Jordan Russo swung the passenger door open and leapt from the moving car.

Some time ago, I gave up writing negative reviews of books as it was just too frustrating.  But now and then, there is a book that really needs to be addressed.

I have read two of Victor Methos' standalone legal mysteries and loved them.  In fact, I started to bore people by talking about and recommending them.  Therefore, writing this is painful in the extreme.

My first issue was the constant referral of the protagonist by her surname.  I recognize there are some professions where that is common, regardless of gender.  However, a friend and I, who share the same first name, are the only ones I've known to do this is real life. Even Donna Leon makes the distinction of referring to her character as "Brunetti" when he is at work, and "Guido" when he's at home.  

Second, the troubled, incredibly bright teenaged daughter.  What kind of mother would hold her child back from being able to realize her full potential?  Red flags immediately were raised as to the purpose of this. 

Third, when the police, who were comically incompetent, and who had already withheld information from her, came and asked for her help with her serial-killer ex-husband, any sane, reasonable person who had been through such an experience, would have told them to do their own damn jobs and get out.  Instead--I know it was the basis for the plot--she agrees.  Then, when they tell her not to enter the crime scene, she does the classic TSTL move and enters the crime scene. Jessica, for someone who was supposed to be so incredibly successful prosecutor, was painfully dumb.

Fourth, the too-good-to-be-true boyfriend.  Red flags screamed at that.  

About one-quarter into the book, there was no question where the plot was going, and it isn't that long of a book.  The end was so clearly broadcast that I broke my cardinal rule and went to the end of the book, only to find I was 100%, bang-on correct.  

The only parts of the book that were well done and rang true were the courtroom scenes.  Due to Methos' experience as a lawyer, the courtroom scenes are interesting, engrossing, and suspenseful on their own merit.  Too bad the rest of the book didn't hold up as well.

"A Killer's Wife" was an absolute wall-banger for me.  Even more frustrating was that I couldn't actually, physically throw it across the room because it was an e-galley and I wasn't willing to sacrifice my Kindle.  I'm not completely giving up on Mr. Methos.  I'd be happy to read another of his standalone legal thrillers which, I repeat, I found to be excellent, but I shall stay away from his dysfunctional female protagonists.

Methos, Victor – First of series
Thomas & Mercer – Mar 2020

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent

Recently I was asked to recommend a book dealing with the Salam Witch Trials and remembered "The Heretic's Daughter." Having lived in Boston and spending many a weekend in Salam, I was honored to meet Kathleen Kent, a tenth generation descendant of Martha Carrier, the protagonist of this book. Although I first read this book in 2009, I feel it's worth adding to my review site today.

First Sentence: The distance by wagon from Billerica to neighboring Andover is but nine miles.

The story begins with a letter, written in 1752, from Sarah Carrier Chapman to her grand-daughter. With it, she has sent a book detailing the history of her life in Andover and the events of the Salem Village witch trials.

Sarah is the daughter of Thomas and Martha Carrier. Her father is a tall (7’4”), quiet, hardworking man; her mother is hard, domineering, and distant to the children. Due to neighborhood disputes, and family jealousies, Sarah is accused of being a witch.

The Salem witch trials were a shameful incident in our history.  Kathleen Kent has taken those events and made them real and personal. The extent of her research is evident. In the first part of the story, she describes in detail the hardships of life in that time, and the subjugation of women to men and families to the selectmen of the town and the Puritan pastors. She showed how actions and events can be interpreted by the superstitious, particularly when there is jealousy or an opportunity for power involved.

In the later part of the book, Kent included actual testimony from the trials. Doing so illustrated the absurdity of the trials by showing the fact of them. Kent is a wonderful writer. The story’s voice has the tone of the period.

The characters are well crafted and fully developed giving the events even greater impact. I shall admit my favorite character was Thomas, the father, again remembering all the characters were real.

"The Heretic's Daughter" is a very powerful, painful story and one well worth reading.

THE HERETIC’S DAUGHTER (Hist. Fic-Sarah Carrier-Mass-1600s) - VG
Kent, Kathleen – 1st book
Little, Brown and Company, 2008