Thursday, July 15, 2021

The Puppet Show by M.W. Craven

First Sentence: The stone circle is an ancient, tranquil place.

A serial killer leaves his burned and disfigured victims within one of the stone circles of Cumbria.  Each victim is an elderly man, disfigured and burned.  Detective Washington Poe's suspension from the Serious Crimes Unit has been lifted. Tilly Bradshaw, a brilliant data analyst, has been assigned to work with Poe.  The challenge is for Poe and Tilly to stop the "Immolation Man" before he kills again, and again.

Readers: Be warned -- this book is dark, with descriptions and themes that become increasingly so as the story progresses.

Craven begins by turning a place usually thought of as magical, into one of fear and horror, constantly increasing the tension throughout very well-timed plot twists and a red-herring or two. The fascinating forensic and analytic work described moves the story forward at a breath-catching clip. Craven's writing is compelling. Even at the darkest parts, one never wants to stop. There is always that sense of wanting to know more; seeing where the path lead; whether will justice be done, and even questioning what constitutes justice.

What truly makes this book work is the characters. Yes, they are rather stereotypical, but one doesn't care. Poe, the rule-breaker with a soft heart, will do whatever it takes to solve the case. Tilly, the brilliant, clever, possibly autistic sidekick, is genuinely appreciated for the first time in her career, is given a chance to spread her wings and show her talents. As a team, they are quirky, delightful, and you cheer for them every step of the way.

The trail Craven lays for Poe and Tilly to follow is fascinating, wonderfully atmospheric, and exciting. It is filled with a plethora of interesting information along the way. It includes a side path with the history of Poe's name which one assumes with have more relevance later in the series. One small point: a glossary of all the acronyms would have been helpful.

"The Puppet Show" is dark, twisty, suspenseful, filled with great characters, and one of the most gratifying endings of late. However, the best part is knowing there are for Poe and Tilly books yet to be read.

THE PUPPET SHOW (Thriller/PolProc-Poe/Tilly-Cumbria, Lake District, England-Contemp) – Ex
Craven, M.W. – 1st in series
Constable, June 2018, 352 pp

Thursday, July 8, 2021

An Extravagant Death by Charles Finch

First Sentence: It was a sunny, icy late morning in February of 1878, and a solitary figure, lost in thought, strode along one of the pale paths winding through St. James's Park in London.

British Enquiry Agent, Charles Lennox, solved a case that brings down Scotland Yard with the three top men headed to trial. Prime Minister Disraeli determines it best that Lennox is not in England during the trial and sends him to the United States with the Queen's Seal on a tour of the East Coast law enforcement agencies. 1878 Newport, Rhode Island; a place of extreme wealth and self-indulgence. A place of new money, and a focus on marrying well. The murder of a young woman of the first diamond doesn't fit into this scenario. Lennox's help is requested.

Finch does an excellent job of providing a summary of Lennox's background, as well as folding in that of his wife's, Lady Jane. However, it is confusing that the case for which Lennox is being lauded falls into a huge gap in the series storyline: When did Lennox and Jane have a second child? When did Polly and Dallington, Charles' partners in the agency, get married? And most of all, what was the case that brought down Scotland Yard? Either this reviewer blanked out this information, or Finch and/or his publisher just decided to skip a book and these annoying little details.

In Lenox's getting to know New York, Finch presents the stark contrast between the wealthy and the laboring class very well, demonstrating compassion but not dismissiveness or pity. Lenox's excitement is tangible as he crosses the border from New York to Connecticut, consulting his little book of maps showing the thirty-eight states, until one learns the origin of the word "shrapnel," and later the term "I heard it through the grapevine." Those small bits of information lend richness to the story.

Just as with the contrast in settings, Finch displays the contrasts in characters and their lives with the working class and merchants of the town, to the very wealthy "cottage" owners such as the Vanderbilts and Mrs. Astor. As is often true, some of the most interesting characters are those of ex-soldier James Clark, and Fergus O'Brian, the Irish valet,

It is interesting to see Lenox dogged determination and attention to detail as he investigates every aspect and every possible suspect. The details of how and why Lily, the victim, was killed are laid out perfectly and done in a scene of edge-of-seat suspense rather than the more pedestrian style of Christie. The final chapters are heart-warming, especially the requests he makes on behalf of others.

"An Extravagant Death" is just shy of being excellent, in part due to a scene at the end. The mystery is well done with some secondary characters nearly stealing the show. It will be interesting to see where the series goes from here.

AN EXTRAVEGEANT DEATH (EnqAgent-Charles Lenox-Newport, RI/NYC-1878) – G+
Finch, Charles – 14th book in series
Minotaur Books, Feb 2021, 277 pp

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Death in Daylesford by Kerry Greenwood

First Sentence: It was a lazy, late summer's morning in St. Kilda.

Miss Phryne Fisher and her ever-loyal maid, Dot, are off to visit the Spa at Hepburn being run for shell-shocked veterans of the Great War. Their visit coincides with the Highland Games, but it is not much of a celebration as people begin dying. And what about the women who have been disappearing? With Phryne away, her two adopted daughters, Jane and Ruth, along with handyman Tinker, join forces with DS Hugh Collins to solve the murder of the girl's classmate.

Ah, the joy of the Honorable Phryne Fisher of 221B The Esplanade in Melbourne, Australia in this multi-plot story where all the characters are fully developed and wonderfully realized. Phryne is a strong, independent, character with a view of relationships that is more traditionally male, yet completely accepting—'Phryne made a mental note to the effect that medical opinions stating that women who were same-sex attracted must be neurotic were so much ill-informed drivel.'

Those new to the series are introduced not only to Phryne and learn of her family history but meet her current family and those who are associated with her. With the secondary characters, Greenwood cleverly and oh-so-subtly includes a soupçon of doubt as to their honesty.

Greenwood begins each chapter with an excerpt from a poem or literature, adding a certain grace to the story. She paints verbal pictures; places, things, and most of all, people become three-dimensional through her words. "A generalized sense of doom hung in the atmosphere… 'I don't know how this farm strikes you, Dot, but it's a little bit too Thomas Hardy for my liking.'"

This is not a book to read when hungry as even the simplest meal leaves one salivating--"fish, beef, and chicken pies."—and-- "broccoli has a sauce made of lemon juice, garlic and butter, and the carrots have fresh ginger, sesame seeds, and honey. Oh, and butter.'" Alternatively, one appreciates Phryne admitting that Dot a lesson in camouflage.

Rather than a cozy, consider this a traditional mystery.  The murders are numerous, and the issues, whether related to the crime being solved by the group in Melbourne, or by Phryne and Dot, are stark. Greenwood makes it clear that issues of today are not new but were relevant in the 1920s as well.

"Death in Daylesford" is chock full of mysteries all of which are solved in the most British of manners. There are numerous characters to keep straight, so it's best to keep each mystery separate in one's mind. No matter what, it is wonderful to have Phryne and the gang back again.

DEATH IN DAYLESFORD (Hist/PI-Phryne Fisher-Australia-1920s) – VG+
Greenwood, Kerry - 21st in series
Poisoned Pen Press, Jun 2021, 318 pp

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Not a Creature Was Stirring by Jane Haddam

First Sentence: "Listen," Myra said, as soon as the phone was picked up, without waiting to find out who had answered it.

Gregor Demarkian, a retired profiler for the FBI "…the most Irish Catholic organization in the U.S. government" is asked for a special favor by his good friend, Father Tibor. Philadelphia Main Line millionaire Robert Hannaford has offered the priest $100,000 for his crumbling church if Gregor will have Christmas dinner at "Engine House," the Hannaford estate. What Gregor finds is a house with every inch decorated for Christmas; a group of siblings who don't like themselves or one another, some of whom are in financial and or legal trouble, and a matriarch crippled with Muscular Sclerosis who never leaves her room. Shortly after arriving, Hanniford is found in his den where a marble bust accidentally fell, killing him. Was it an accident? Gregor doesn't think so.

Haddam's voice is one that captivates. With a heading of "PART ONE SUNDAY, DECEMBER 18-SATURDAY DECEMBER 24 THE FIRST MURDER," it's clear there's an interesting story ahead. And it is nice that a floorplan of the house is included at the beginning of the book. The story is filled with subtle, often dialogue-driven humor. There is a cynicism and sharpness to her voice that causes frequent chuckles—"No intelligent psychopath had to murder a dozen little old ladies to get his kicks. He would wreak far more havoc by going into government work." After that, it is the character of Gregor and his friend Father Tibor who are the hook. We learn of Gregor's past and about life within an Armenian community.

As for the family/victims, they are a mess. It is hard to work up a whole lot of sympathy for them. It makes one glad to not be wealthy, or at least, overly entitled.

As for the plot, in the end, aren't all motives really quite basic? The family Gregor is investigating is filled with unpleasant characters, and none more so than the father. As the investigation proceeds, it is understandable why he was murdered.

One point of interest is that each of Haddam's 30 books, is set against the background of a holiday. This somehow truly fits with her sense of humor.

"Not a Creature was Stirring" is a familial version of Agatha Christie's "And Then There None." The has a strange, obscure plot of even stranger, mainly unsympathetic people other than those surrounding Gregor. However, what it really has is a delightful voice, eminently quotable lines, and a lot of smoking: one forgets how prevalent smoking was in 1990. This was one of those books where you feel as though you should have figured it out, but didn't. It's also a book that makes one really want to continue the series.

NOT A CREATURE WAS STIRRING (Pol(ret)-Gregor Demarkian-NYC/PA-Contemp) – Good
Jane Haddam, 1st in series
Mysterious Press, 1990, 320 pp

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

What Doesn't Kill Us by David Housewright

First Sentence: I was shot in the back at close range by a .32-caliber handgun yet did not die, at least not permanently.

Rushmore "Mac" MacKenzie is a former cop now spending his time by taking on unofficial private investigations as favors for his friends, some of whom are more law-abiding than others. It all starts when his friend Deese takes a genealogy-site DNA test and learns his father is not his father. But is that what led to Mac being shot in the back? Now lying in a medically-induced coma, it is up to Mac's friends to do a favor for him and track down his would-be killer.

What a unique premise. While the solving of the crime is left up to his diverse and fascinating assortment of friends with incidents shown from their perspective, the story is told, by post coma, by Mac. This gives a somewhat out-of-body feel to the narration. The book does mention COVID-19, although it was clearly written at the very beginning of the pandemic.

Housewright has compiled a fascinating collection of characters. Many are recurring characters that add to the overall series. Some, such as Detective Shipman, are new and add a touch of vinegar to the story. That Nina, Mac's wife and owner of jazz club, confesses being jealous of Shelby, the wife of Mac's best friend, is perfectly written and exemplifies how women almost never realize their own worth or successes.

The story segues into various relevant topics are insightful and add a layer to the story beyond the basic investigation. Rather than being intrusive or slowing the pace, they add a layer of significance.

Housewright is an eminently quotable author. Whether talking about emotional pain—"It reminds me of that old Skeeter Davis song. I wake up in the morning and I wonder why everything's the same as it was."—or referencing Shakespeare to impart a facial expression—"I need you to do something for me," she said. The way Smith and Jones glanced at each other yet again somehow reminded Shipman of Shakespeare's Richard III – I am not in the giving vein today."—or a t-shirt meme—"YOU MATTER unless you multiply yourself by the speed of light squared…then you energy."—his words are relatable.

Unconventional twists are sometimes so cleverly done as to make one smile. The story of Deese and the unintended result of taking the DNA test is one that could serve as a caution. But there is also a well-done twist that circles the plot back to the motive.

"What Doesn't Kill Us" is a well-done, non-stop read. The plethora of characters can be confusing, but collectively they consolidate the notes into a melody line that makes the story sing.

WHAT DOESN'T KILL US (PI-Rushmore MacKenzie-Twin Cities-Contemp) – VG
Housewright, David
Minotaur Books, May 2021, 345 pp.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves

First Sentence: Lorna lifted Thomas from his high chair and held him for a moment on her knee.

DCI Vera Stanhope comes upon a car that has skidded off the road in a snowstorm. There is no driver to be seen, but an infant has been left secured in a child seat. Knowing she can't leave him there, Vera and the child head for a nearby house; Brockburn, where her father grew up. When a neighbor of the house finds the body of a murdered woman half-covered by the snow, Vera calls up her team to solve the crime, uncovering family secrets along the way.

Vera is one of the best creations of contemporary mystery fiction. She is older, overweight, rather shabby, completely devoid of maternal instinct, and raised in a way to make her a loner, yet not unaffected by how others view her, and not without insecurities—"She paused for a moment, Cinderella looking in: the fifteen-year-old girl again, excluded."

In addition to her descriptions of Vera, Cleeves creates a vivid sense of place—"The sight was like something from a fairy tale. Magical. The flurry of snow had passed and there was moonlight, and a sky flecked with stars."—and scene—"…pheasant, cooked slowly with red wine and shallots…And a vegetable casserole…Roast potatoes and parsnips and sprouts…A variety of puds, hot and cold."

Vera's relationship with her team is interesting. She knows their vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Although she seems to take advantage of them, in knowing what drives them, she is helping them grow and improve individually and as a unit. What makes it work is that they understand what she is doing. They know her, too, with the teammates often bolstering one other.

Cleeve's books are as much personality studies as they are mysteries. By focusing on motivation, it becomes clear how the past can influence the present and the future. One cannot help analyzing oneself in the process.

The plot is excellent. The information on anorexia is well presented and stresses the severity of the disease—which not simply an issue of vanity. There are plenty of questions and red herrings. The question as to who fathered the baby leads to effective supposition. A "ta-dah" moment gives way to real suspense and threat, and a wonderfully English ending.

"The Darkest Evening" is another example of Cleeves' excellent storytelling. The climax is well done and even touching. It's a mystery one may not figure out before the end when it all makes sense, and the use of Frost's poem in the title is perfect.

THE DARKEST EVENING (PolProc-Vera Stanhope-England-Contemp) - Ex
Cleeves, Ann – 9th in series
Minotaur Books, Sept 2020, 384 pp.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

What the Devil Knows by C.S. Harris

First Sentence: Molly Maguire hated the fog.

Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, has been asked by a Bow Street magistrate to investigate the brutal murder of Sir Edwin Pym. Pym had been one of the lead investigators on the Ratcliffe Highway Murders of 1811 in which two families were slaughtered in their homes. A suspect was arrested but died in his cell prior to the trial, and the murders stopped. Now in 1814, Pym has been killed in a nearly identical way, raising the question: was the real murderer caught, or is this a copycat killing? St. Cyr must go back to the beginning to find the truth.

Harris presents a stark, brutal look at London from the time of Bloody Mary, through Elizabeth I, to the time when the book is set. Nothing here is romanticized –"The farther east they traveled, the older, narrower, and more decrepit the houses became, the more ragged the men, women, and wretched children on the streets, the more foul the air."

It is interesting how Harris weaves together the cases from the two time periods into one investigation when other authors might have been tempted to write in two alternating timelines. By using this method, the story has more impact when it becomes clear that St. Cyr is solving is both a cold case and a current one. Harris is an effective and affecting, writer. Her scenes simultaneously create a sense of anger and desolation.

Hero, St. Cyr's wife, is a wonderful character used wisely by Harris. She has a role that involves her but doesn't have her actively attempting to solve crimes. Hero is the conveyer of a bit of humor when interviewing a young prostitute. She is an activist, writing columns on the city's laboring poor—"In some ways the lives of the Foundling Hospital's children were pitiable. … But in truth, these were the lucky ones. They weren't dead." She is the generous heart who is distressed at seeing a caged parrot that can never be set free, and an orphan who'd rather sell herself than be subjected to abuse—"Why? Why would you want to help me?" Hero drew a painful breath. What should she say? Because my life has always been so comfortable and easy that a part of me can't help but feel guilty for it?...Because sometimes writing articles to stir the public conscience simply isn't enough? … So instead, she said, "I need someone to take care of my parrot." Lastly, she is St. Cyr's wife and partner in the truest sense of the word, which adds softness and humanity to an otherwise very dark and dangerous story.

There are a lot of characters. Some are ones series readers will remember. Certainly, St. Cyr holds center stage, and young Tom, who takes care of his coach and horses and is wonderful in his own right. However, one downside of the double investigation is the plethora of other, secondary characters, who can be confusing as they are not fully developed. There are also a lot of murders. However, there are also exciting scenes of suspense and danger.

A second plot line runs through the series in St. Cyr's search to learn about his true parentage. Some of the most poignant moments come from here, and this book is no exception.

"What the Devil Knows" is a compelling read with a complex plot that keeps you going. Sadly, in many ways, it demonstrates that nothing really changes over time. Do note the map at the beginning of the book and make certain to read the Author's Notes at the end as they differentiate history from fiction.

WHAT THE DEVIL KNOWS (HistMys-Sebastian St. Cyr-London-1814/Georgian – VG
Harris, C.S. – 16th in series
Berkeley, Apr 2021, 336 pp.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The Art of Violence by S.J. Rozan

First Sentence: Shifting colors on a monster billboard bled through the April evening mist, showed me a shadow in the alley.

Chronic alcoholic Sam Tabor has mental health disorders and experiences blackouts, except when he paints. After being convicted of murdering a woman and serving five years in prison, art lovers arrange for Sam's release. Now, two new women have been murdered and, because of the means of their deaths, Sam fears he is the killer. As a former client of investigator Bill Smith, Sam wants either to be proven guilty of the murders or absolutely convinced of his innocence.

A first line, both evocative and threatening, immediately draws one into an unusual premise. Rozan is a joy to read. Her writing is thoughtful and literary with passages of text—"By now, it was half past eight. … All traces of last night's mist had burned away under the April Sun … This unsullied light, this bright vision, they're beautiful, but they're false … It's not until the day gets older, wearier, that it stops making the effort to lie."--that contrast to her natural, realistic dialogue with touches of wry humor—"'Can I pick the restaurant?' … 'I've heard of it. I don't think I'm cool enough.' 'No, but I am."

Characters drive the story, and Bill and Lydia are wonderful characters. Rozan's books alternate between which character takes the lead, and this is Bill's turn. Bill is interesting in that he's a combination of the Golden Age PI with his cigarettes, a bit of the 70's television PI Banacek with his love of classical music and knowledge of art, but with more contemporary sensibilities in his personal relationship with Lydia and consideration for her mother, as well as his respect for her skills. These elements add dimensions to Bill one might not expect. Lydia plays a secondary role in the story but is still significant to the plot.

Although his mental illness, beyond OCD, isn't defined, Sam is the most intriguing character of them all. The description of Sam's paintings conveys their impact and inspires curiosity but leaves one disquieted. Through him, one sees the absurdity and price of celebrity—"….it had made him famous. He belonged to it now … belonged to didn't mean 'fit in with.' It meant 'was owned by." and those who follow it.

While there is the usual "bad" cop, Rozen counters that with Detective Angela Grimaldi who is tough, thorough, and smart, provides an explanation of the types of serial killers, and who believes in working the evidence to find the killer. And there is Lydia's traditional Chinese mother who is always a delight.

One may suspect the killer quite early on. While this is somewhat disappointing, the quality of Rozan's writing compels one to keep going, and it's worth it. After all, with very clever twists, additional murders, and the age-old, never-resolved question as to what is art, one's suspicions may not be accurate.

"The Art of Violence" could be considered Rozan's pandemic in that it is a bit muddled and not always easy to keep the characters straight. Even so, it is a good story and keeps one well engaged to the end.

THE ART OF VIOLENCE (PI-Bill Smith/Lydia Chin-New York-Contemp) - Good
Rozan, S. J. – 13th in series
Pegasus Crime, Dec 2020, 352 pp.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Dark Sky by C.J. Box

First Sentence: Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett stood on the edge of the tarmac with his hands thrust into the pockets of his parka and his gray Stetson clamped on tight against the cold wind.

Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett has been ordered by the Governor to take Steven "Steve-2" Price, a Silicon billionaire, bow-hunting for elk. While Joe is helping Steve stalk a bull elk, Earl Thomas and his sons are stalking Price intent on killing him. Joe's daughter, Sheridan, works for Nate Romanowski. In checking falcon nests, she discovers someone has been stealing and killing the birds. Nate and Sheridan learn Joe is in trouble, and immediately go to help. When Soledad, a falcon thief destroys Nate's birds and threatens his family, all bets are off.

Box's descriptions bring the locations and characters to life—"the last rays of the sun lit up the face of the rock formation and threw dark shadows into its folds and cracks. A single raven hugged the rim of the wall and flew in lazy, ever-widening circles." Where he excels is in suspense; in knowing who, but not the why. Violence comes hard and fast in the story. Seeds of distrust and suspicion are cleverly planted, and things escalate quickly as Joe is left without any communications or weapons but must protect another.

This is a two-pronged story, with the effectiveness and intensity of each being equal to the other. "Steve-2" is clearly based on Steve Jobs; the character even cites him as an idol. He exemplifies the very worst of the 1%, who created a product that enables the narcissism and bullying sadly found today. This is contrasted by the innate morality of Joe. Through Nate and Sheridan, one learns more about falcons and the illegal bird trade. It is also a thread that leads directly to the next book.

The intensity of suspense and action tend to keep one reading into the night. Although completely different, one may make a small comparison between Box and Agatha Christie in their high body count. The coming together of the three segments; Joe and Price, Nate and Sheridan, and Thomas and his sons, is cataclysmic—"Gee," she said to Nate, "I think we have enough guns along." "Bite your tongue," Nate said. One never has enough guns."-- but provides an unexpected revelation that doesn't excuse but explains how actions can lead to devastating results. Joe may now be 51, but he hasn't lost those attributes that one admires and that make him who he is.

"Dark Sky" is a wild ride of non-stop tension. It is violent, but thought-provoking as it deals with many important issues of our times. This may be Box's best book yet.

DARK SKY (LicInv-Joe Pickett-Wyoming-Contemp) - Ex
Box, C.J. – 21st in series
G.P. Putnam's Sons, Mar 2021, 349 pp.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

One Last Lie by Paul Doiron

First Sentence: Before I left for Florida, my old friend and mentor Charley Stevens gave me a puzzling piece of advice.

Retired Game Warden Charley Stevens has been a mentor, friend, and father figure to Mike Bowditch since early in his career. Charlie disappearing from his wheelchair-bound wife Ora is enough to bring Mike back to his home state of Maine from Florida. When he finds Charley didn't take his seaplane and left a note for Mike instructing him not to search, it's an automatic dog-whistle for Mike to do everything he can to find Charley.

A book should open with a compelling hook: goal accomplished. The Florida sense of place is distinct—"Never had I encountered nature in such glorious, riotous abundance. An eye-popping, caterwauling carnival of life." This is followed by another good life lesson—"A small fish came up to snap at it. A bigger fish rose from the depths to swallow the smaller fish whole. There's always someone bigger, someone hungrier."

Having strong characters makes all the difference. Eleven books in, Mike is only 31 with that combination of hard experience, intelligence, and skills, yet offset with youthful arrogance, occasional overconfidence, and romantic cluelessness. The women in Mike's world are bright, tough, and intelligent. Not a lot of time is spent on backstory. Instead, the author lets the story fill in the blanks so one never has the sense of coming in at the middle of the series.

Maine is a state most people think they know from photos of the coastline. The author's Maine is one of vast, wooded areas, lakes, self-reliant, often dangerous people, and drugs. The action scenes happen fast and there are plenty of them. They are visual and heart-stopping, with barely a pause of relief before one crisis moves to the next. The plot follows Mike's investigation step-by-step, and from place to place, which avoids one becoming confused. The inclusion of an investigation report adds realism to the story. However, along with Mike, one must always question who can be trusted.

"One Last Lie" is a literary mystery with many different elements brought together through intelligent writing and a complex protagonist. Mike may be a game warden, but this is a case where the threats come from animals with two legs. Doiron and Mike are unique. One cannot help but want to read more of this exceptional series.

ONE LAST LIE (LicInv-Warden Mike Bowditch-Maine-Contemp) – VG
Doiron, Paul – 11th in series
Minotaur Books, Jun 2020, 320 pp.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Custom House Murders by Ashley Gardner

First Sentence: I pondered the package that reposed on the dining-room table for a long time.

Retired Army Captain Gabriel Lacey has a complicated tit-for-tat relationship with James Denis, ruler of London's underworld. Instructed by Denis to deliver a package containing a White Queen chess piece to his competitor and nemesis Harlow Creasy, Lacey must comply. Waylaid by an old Army friend, Major Miles Eden, newly arrived from Antigua, they, along with bodyguard Brewster, confront Creasy landing Lacey in the middle of a dangerous turf war. Afterward, Eden asks for Lacey's help clearing him of a murder charge.

The first thing one notices is Gardner's voice. She has captured the formality and speech of the period without it being ponderous or disruptive—"Barnstable, who would never profess interest in a gentleman's correspondence, had discreetly departed."—while also differentiating the speech of the classes—"Then it could mean anything, guv."

It is the relationships that hold one to the story. With Lacey at the nucleus, he respects and is respected by those at all levels. He believes in helping if he can but is not gullible. With a leg lamed during the war, he knows his physical limitations and resents them as anyone would. The relationship with his family is lovely, with scenes of intimacy done behind closed doors. When disaster comes, introduced with a wicked twist, you feel his anguish and fear, offset by a determination to make things right. The inclusion of chess is wonderfully done.

Gardner knows how to keep a story moving and the reader involved. The pacing is brilliantly done, alternating between peaceful family scenes, and those of investigation followed by extreme risk. The addition of Eden allowed a perspective of slavery that was realistic and thought-provoking without overshadowing the overall plot while Eden's case is one of no one being who they seem.

At the core, Gardner writes about relationships, even eliciting some sympathy for Denis—"I did not consider him a friend. Until this moment, when I realized that if Denis were killed, I'd be sorry." In turn, Lacey is flummoxed by those who consider him their friend—"I'm damned if I know why. I have a foul temper." Eden studied me in amusement. 'You intrigue people with your honesty. They never know what to make of it.'" Ashley Gardner, whose real name is Jennifer Ashley, writes under other pseudonyms as well and is an incredibly prolific author. In an interesting way, her writing reminds me of Louise Penny.

"The Custom House Murders" is a terrific entry to a series that only gets better with each book. It is atmospheric, emotional, exciting, catches your breath, and warms your heart. One appreciates not having an abrupt ending, but one where the ends are neatly tied up and the door opened to the next book.

THE CUSTOM HOUSE MURDERS (HisMys-Gabriel Lacey-London-1819) - Ex
Gardner, Ashley – 15th in series
JA/AG Publishing, Nov 2020, 309 pp.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths

First Sentence: The two men have been standing there for eighteen minutes.

Peggy Smith is 90-years-old so her death isn't startling, except to her caregiver Natalka Kolisnyk. It is not the number of crime novels in Peggy's room that was surprising, but that almost all of them were dedicated to Peggy. When a masked gunman breaks in and steals a book Natalka and café owner Benedict were packing up, it's determined Peggy's death wasn't so natural, and DS Harbinder Kaur is assigned to the case. Joined by Peggy's elderly neighbor, Edwin Fitzgerald, Natalka, Benedict, and Harbinder join forces to undercover Peggy's killer.

Griffiths has a huge following of loyal fans. That makes it hard to be an outlier, but there was too much about this book that just did not work.

Setting aside the alternating voices; a device some don't mind while others find irritating, the plot was improbable, the coincidences were overwhelming and unrealistic. To have a police officer put his partner's life in jeopardy resulting in extreme harm to her, and then she is blamed stretched credulity. The portents were clumsy and obvious, thus removing any opportunity for surprise or suspense.

Griffiths does do a good job introducing the characters, and one learns of their background, as each appears. They are interesting and nicely developed, even those who are not particularly likable. One appreciates the friendships and camaraderie which develops. The team of four amateurs is the only thing that works in this book. Harbinder much less so and her partner is unpleasant to the point of being a caricature of male chauvinism.

Setting part of the book at a mystery conference provides a nice look into the world of publishing. However, there were too many threads, red herrings, and twists—yes, there can be too many intentionally timed twists—portents with predictable outcomes, and an ending that came from nowhere. Each death is projected, which removes any sense of surprise.

By far, the strength of this book lies in the characters, particularly the four who become friends. Their diversity adds dimension to the story, and one appreciates there being an epilogue for each character at the end. A cozy at its heart, this is a story of how the most unlikely of people can become friends.

"The Postscript Murders" is much different from Griffith's other books. The plot is overly complicated, filled with coincidences, and becomes boring at times. It feels, and perhaps was meant to be, as though this is a send-up of detective fiction. Yet it seemed rather demeaning to the genre.

THE POSTSCRIPT MURDERS (TradMys/Cozy-D.S. Harbinder Kaur-Leeds, England-Contemp) - Okay
Griffith, Elly – 2nd in series
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Mar 2021, 336 pp.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Drop by Dennis Lehane

First Sentence: Bob found the dog two days after Christmas, the neighborhood gone quiet in the cold, hungover and gas-bloated.

Bob Saginowsk's life revolves between the house in which he grew up, the Catholic Church he has always attended, and the bar in which he works which is now owned by Chechen mobsters, and managed by his cousin Marv. Things change when he rescues a small dog and meets Nadia. Bob's life is looking up until two gunmen walk into the bar.

Lehane has a way of writing that draws you into his world. It is a world of people few of us know but recognize they are real. Bob is a character who tugs at your heart, while Marv, his cousin, who once owned the bar and is desperately trying to succeed at something again--"a successful man could hide his past, but an unsuccessful man spent the rest of his life trying not to drown in his."

The best writers are those whose phrases make one stop and consider, perhaps even reread. One doesn't do this for clarity, but out of consideration for what was said. One wants to make note of them to share them with others. Yet Lehane's world is a harsh one filled with violence and cruelty—"Cruelty is older than the Bible. Savagery best its chest in the first human summer and has kept beating it every day since." Even so, it's not unrelenting. There are elements of self-realization and bright spots with Nadia, a puppy, and surprisingly, Detective Evandro Torres, the cop, who is still trying to solve a ten-year-old cold case.

How does one quantify Lehane's writing? It is brutal but somehow impersonal; detached so one doesn't feel shocked by it. He surprises one but makes one feel they should have seen it coming. He is dark and not for everyone, but those who do read him cannot help but feel slightly in awe.

"The Drop" began life as a short story, became a screenplay, and is now a short novel. One need not know any of that to appreciate the quality, the level of suspense, the twists, particularly at the end.

THE DROP (NoirCrime-Bob Saginowski-Boston-Contemp) Ex
Lehane, Dennis – Standalone
William Morrow, 2014, 208 pp.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Transient Desires by Donna Leon

First Sentence: Brunetti slept late.

Two young American women were found injured and abandoned on the emergency dock of the hospital. A surveillance camera finally identified the boat and the men who left them there. But why dump the women if the injuries were caused by a boating accident? An investigation by Brunetti and his colleague, Claudia Griffoni, lead to far darker activities involving one of the men's uncle. Although Brunetti is uncertain how much he can trust them, he needs the assistance of the Carabinieri and the Guardia di Costiera against an enemy much greater than he imagined.

One of the best things about Brunetti is how real and normal he is. No superhero he. He procrastinates and indulges in self-pity as he feels the passage of years. His empathy for others and the inclusion of his home life make him a fully developed character. Yet, one wonders whether Brunetti is suffering from ennui and thinking of retirement?

As usual, the magnificent Signorina Elettra saves the day by pointing him to a new case, but it's Leon's wry assessment of charity events, especially those for environmental issues where the attendees fly in on their private jets, that remind us how good Leon is at incorporating current issues into her stories including that while Brunetti is appreciative of the women with whom he is in contact, he is also very aware of what is appropriate. The addition of Claudia Griffoni as Brunetti's second, and a Neapolitan demonstrates that bigotry comes in many forms. Still, she makes the point; it is often those who are invisible to others who see the most. There is so much packed into this story. Brunetti is always willing to grow and learn which adds to his strength as a character.

Leon expands the story in a logical manner, often with well-placed, but not overused, plot twists. She also increases one's knowledge of Italy's different law enforcement branches by including the Carabinieri, or the military branch, and the Guardia Costiera, which is equivalent to our Coast Guard. Including these branches expands the story and increases its suspense. There is nothing more effective or suspenseful than a setup where one thinks one knows how things will go, yet desperately hopes to be wrong.

"Transient Desires" is timely, relevant, and suspenseful. This ranks high among Leon's books; perhaps as her very best, with implications and an ending that is emotionally impactful.

TRANSIENT DESIRES (PolPro-Comm. Guido Brunetti-Venice-Contemp) Ex
Leon, Donna – 30th in series
Atlantic Monthly Press, Mar 2021, 288 pp
 

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

To The Dark by Chris Nickson

First Sentence: She sensed him there, behind her in the fog.

Simon West, with his assistant Jane, and wife Rose, is a thief-taker. When petty thief Laurance Poole, who robbed Alderman Sir Matthew Fullbrook, is found dead, Simon is worried he may be arrested. Instead, he is surprised to be hired by Constable Williams to find the killer. After Simon finds a notebook written in code, he is drawn into the dangerous job of exposing those behind a rash of burglaries. It is up to Simon, Jane, and Rose to keep a priceless item safe, find a killer, and stay alive.

It is always a relief when an author draws new readers into a series yet makes them feel right at home, especially when there is suspense from almost the first page. Even better is when it is the third book in the series, and one feels no lack for not having read the previous two. Nickson sets the tone with his descriptions of Leeds, a city he calls home and whose history he knows extremely well. He depicts an industrial-age city chocked by smoke, dirt, and grime all in the name of progress—"I don't think Leeds will ever be clean again,…"

This is not a book set in genteel drawing rooms, but in the homes, streets, and alleys of the working, and non-working class, just trying to survive as best they can—"He had no one to look after his mother while he was gone. No money to pay for a companion for her. He had no choice but to tie her in the chair to stop her from wandering." Yet the author's voice conveys caring and compassion.

Nickson's characters are alive and fascinating. One learns their backgrounds, often through memories, fleshing them out but still leaving a shadow around them, especially the character of Martha. An unreliable character always heightens the suspense. Watching how the three main characters use their contacts to track the clues, one step at a time, adds a sense of constant tension. Nickson's female characters are anything but minor characters or ones waiting for a man to rescue them. Jane gives as good, if not better than she gets. She is somewhat feral and works on grit. Rose, Simon's wife, is his partner in life and in craft. She depends on guile, intellect, and having the right wardrobe.

As the story progresses, suspense builds at a heart-stopping pace, aided by excellent plot twists, and an unanswered question at the end. One really can't help but wonder why this very prolific author is not better known than he is.

"To the Dark" is an exciting book filled with twists and climax after climax, but still leaving questions unanswered at the end. With female characters as clever and capable as the men, the author created a tense, suspenseful tale in a city he so obviously loves.

TO THE DARK (HisMys-Simon West/Jane-Leeds, England-1822) – VG+
Nickson, Chris – 3rd in series
Severn House, Feb 2021, 238 pp.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Cruel as the Grave by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

First Sentence: Atherton was singing in his Dean Martin voice.

Personal fitness trainer Erik Lingoss is found murdered in his flat by a young woman who fancied herself in love with him. A box full of cash in his closet, 700 pounds under his pillow, and his missing mobile phone indicates things may not be as indicated. The more Slider and his team investigate, the more suspects emerge. Under pressure to clear the case, they work to find the who and why of the murder.

Beginning a new book by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles is akin to being given one's favorite dessert. First, there is no prologue, not even one masquerading as a first chapter. The story begins on page one and continues to the end. Second, wonderful dialogue filled with wry humor—"Let he who is without sin bore the pants off everybody else." Last, the sense of time and place. Her evocative descriptions employ all the senses.

The characters are alive--"…Atherton stretched, catlike. Tall, elegant, sartor's plaything, he was as out of place at a dreary crime scene as an orchid in a vegetable patch." The balance is Slider, not a Long-Ranger cop, but respected by a team where each has their role to play. The plot may initially present itself as straightforward, yet one knows it won't stay that way long—"Thirteen thousand pounds. …Normal people don't keep large amounts of cash in the wardrobe."

Including characters' families in the story adds humanity and dimension. Unlike the questionable stability of Atherton's relationship, Slider has an extended family of his wife, son and a child on the way, a daughter by his first marriage, a father and his partner. A wonderful hospital scene touches the heart.

The author's use of language, including the chapter headings, is a pleasure. One small caution, or treat, is that it is very British, meaning there are numerous British terms and idioms. It can be confusing, but the meaning is easy enough to glean from the context—"The bathos almost made him smile." The use of malaprops—"Putting the cat before the horse, aren't you?"—and literary references are fun to spot. The banter between Slider and Atherton realistically reflects that of friends/colleagues who know each other well.

The plot focuses on the real police work of identifying the many suspects, following leads, and looking for evidence. What drives Slider as much as finding the killer is discovering the motive which is poignant.

"Cruel as the Grave" is such a good read. Harrod-Eagles is a skilled writer who evokes empathy for the killer. It was truly the dessert's finishing touch.

CRUEL AS THE GRAVE (PolProd-D.S.I. Bill Slider-London-Contemp) – G+
Harrod-Eagles, Cynthia – 22nd in series
Severn House, Feb 2021, 256 pp

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Consolation by Garry Disher

First Sentence:  Did Hirsch own the town?

Hirsch's territory covers a large area of not much in Tiverton, South Australia.  It is up to him to keep the peace.  Someone is stealing women's underwear.  Although that seems a small thing, it is the sort of thing that can escalate. And so they do, exacerbated, exacerbated by a woman who has developed an obsession with Hirsch.

A concise introduction presents Constable Paul Hirschhausen "Hirsch" and the scope of his job, which is impressive in its scope and diversity.  Issues range from the seemingly innocuous to the potentially dangerous.  The jump from one incident to the next brings the residents into play.  Hirsch isn't a cop who sits behind a desk but spends his time walking the street, and driving the territory.

Disher is a wonderful wordsmith.  One understands the words and the meaning behind them.  "Hirsch the mediator.  He seemed to spend most of his time as father confessor, therapist, social worker, fixer, and go-between.  What he'd give for a plain old criminal and a plain old vanilla arrest." 

It is not all serious.  Hirsch's relationship with Wendy and her daughter provides normalcy, offset by his unwillingness to confront the woman who is stalking him as she becomes a threat.  We see the openness of Northern Australia and the bone-chilling cold of late winter.

As the story progresses Hirsch finds one should be careful for what one wishes when things turn violent and deadly.  "…his ABC of policing said:  assume nothing, believe nothing, challenge everything."

"Consolationis a story of lives intertwined; the domino effect begun by the actions of one crashing into the lives of others and the result.  This is an author well worth reading.

CONSOLATION
(PolProc-Const. Paul Hirschhausen-South Australia-Contemp) – VG 
Disher, Garry – 3rd in series
Text Publishing, Nov 2020, 399 pp 


Friday, March 26, 2021

From the Grave by David Housewright

First Sentence: The young woman who identified herself as a psychic medium moved with almost absentminded confidence among the fifty people who had paid forty dollars each for a seat in the community center lecture hall with the hope that she might help them connect with a dead mother or father, uncle or aunt, a dead child—by no promises.

From a friend who attended a psychic reading, former cop, Rushmore McKenzie, learns of a threat placed on his life by the spirit of Leland Hayes, a man McKenzie had killed. Now, more than 21 years later, a highly skeptical McKenzie becomes involved with two psychic mediums to find the money and, due to one of the mediums, to locate a missing woman.

Housewright creates a strong sense of place, even for something as basic as Nina's condo. The interplay between the two characters is easy and natural—"I like your outfit." "Really? Last night you couldn’t wait for me to take it off."—and a particular conversation between them provides good background and an explanation of their relationship. McKenzie's unpleasant neighbor provides a touch of normalcy. Mackenzie has an inner monologue that is used sparingly and effectively, often with a touch of humor. Housewright has also given him an excellent playlist.

It is always fun when an author references other authors. Because of the psychic aspect, he also references a number of popular paranormal investigation shows, but it is McKenzie's skepticism that keeps things grounded until his skepticism is tested. Learning what goes on in the making of such shows is both interesting and demystifying without taking away from the possibility of actuality.

This book is somewhat lighter and less suspenseful than some. In this time of COVID-19 when many are having trouble concentrating, that's not a bad thing. Even so, the story does not lack for twists or red herrings.

"From the Grave," at its foundation, is a solid mystery, well-constructed and enjoyable. One may, or may not, accept the paranormal aspect, but it does provide an extra layer of creativity. However, best of all, is the ending that makes one smile.

FROM THE GRAVE (Unl Invest/Para/ColdCase-Rushmore McKenzie-Minn/St. Paul, MN – Contemp) – VG
Housewright, David – 17th in series
Minotaur Books, May 2020, 312 pp

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Black Coral by Andrew Mayne

 First Sentence:  Everyone is looking at me funny.

      The Underwater Investigation Unit is called out to a submerged van at Pond 65.  The passenger has been recovered; but Detective Sloan McPherson, the team's top diver, needs to recover the driver. Rather than one, she finds three bodies in the van, and evidence of a fifth person having been involved.  The investigation puts McPherson and the UIU on the trail of the serial killer, while also trying to catch a thief stealing millions of electronic equipment off mega-yachts. 

      Mayne has a great voice layered with wry humor—"If you have any questions, please contact us through our website," George concludes." … "We have a website?" I ask in a whisper."  He is a true storyteller who creates wonderful characters that play into one another.  One wants to share passages of his writing with others.  Not every male author writes women well.  Mayne is one who truly does, and it is a pleasure to read. 

      Sloan is fully dimensional.   There is a nice injection of the character's personal life which adds balance to the story, injecting light into the dark. There is realism in admitting no one is a perfect parent.  one provides compelling She is introspective both about the case—"I see two different men in front of me.  One is the monster.  The other is the victim.  The victim didn't make the monster, but it sure did nurture him.", and her life as a cop—"…where do I go from here?  Catching the New River Bandits was a good thing, but in no way deeply fulfilling."

      Having Sloan as an archeologist, as well as a diver and cop, brings dimension to the character and opens interesting doors.  The plot is very well done and filled with surprises, yet none of them feel contrived.  The things one learns are unusual.  

      Periodic references to events from the first book, don't distract from the current story, nor does the crossover reference to Mayne's Theo Cray series.  This book stands nicely on its own merit.

      Of the two cases, one is fairly straightforward, but the second takes one down a surprising, twisty path with some definite "Oh, my" moments. Although the main plot is about a serial killer, the book is far more suspenseful than gory.

      BLACK CORAL is an excellent read full of humor, suspense, wicked good twists, and a very unexpected ending. 

BLACK CORAL (PolProc-Det. Sloan McPherson-Florida-Contemp) - Ex
Mayne, Andrew – 2nd in series
Thomas & Mercer, Feb 2021, 317 pp 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Final Out by Sheldon Siegel

       First Sentence:  The Honorable Robert J. Stumpf, Jr. scanned the empty gallery in his airless courtroom on the second floor of San Francisco's crumbling Hall of Justice.

       Jaylen Jenkins is arrested for the murder of prominent San Francisco sports agent Robert Blum.   He is on video holding a baseball bat walking toward Blum, and then running away without the bat.  Jenkins claims he is innocent.  But is he?  Without contradictory evidence, can attorney Mike Daley and the team of the San Francisco Public Defender's Office use the "SODDI" defense to convince the jury that some other dude did it? 

       The story begins with a soft case to introduce the principal characters in a casual, conversational manner. In little time, one is taken into the meat of the story and a case that couldn't be more timely.  One of the benefits is learning something new.  Siegel walks readers through every aspect of the case allowing one to experience exactly what is involved.   He educates without lecturing or slowing down the plot.  After all, who else is familiar with the legal term "wobbler"?  It is impossible to conceive the feeling of knowing one is innocent while being told accepting a plea sentence of eight years is a "good deal," yet that happens to so many.

       Through the principal character, Mike, an ex-priest turned lawyer, Siegel created an excellent ensemble cast of Mike's family and friends. They are wonderfully drawn; brought to life mainly through his skill with dialogue.  Even Mike's internal monologues add dimension to the character and the story.   One appealing aspect of the character is his realism.  This isn't a strutting, overly-confident lawyer, this is one who recognizes he could lose his case.

       Set in the San Francisco Bay Area, captured in perfect detail, Siegel brings the region into focus.  It is always fun having a book set in one's hometown, being familiar with the places visited by the characters.  It is even more amusing when the author's description of a particular building echoes one's own thoughts—"The Salesforce Tower dominated the San Francisco skyline and dwarfed the Transamerica Pyramid.  It's impressive in its size and technology, but it looks like an enlarged phallic symbol to me."

       Siegel's style is one of short, tightly written chapters that read almost as vignettes.  Each chapter compels one to continue reading straight through to the end. 

       FINAL OUT is well written and completely involving.  The underlying theme is a sad, but important truth about our justice system. 

FINAL OUT (LegalMyst-Mike Daley-San Francisco-Contempt) – Ex
Siegel, Sheldon – 12th in series
Sheldon M. Siegel, Inc., Jan 2021, 303 pp 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Huntress Moon by Alexandria Sokoloff

First Sentence:  FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is closing in on a bust of a major criminal organization in San Francisco when he witnesses an undercover member of his team killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can't believe is coincidental.

Waiting for his undercover agent to cross a busy street, Agent Matthew Roarke's attention is captured by a woman standing behind the agent.  Moments later, the agent is dead and the woman has disappeared.  As he tracks the woman, he discovers several deaths at which she was present. Is she that most rare of killers: a female serial killer? She is canny, and always one step ahead leaving bodies behind as Roake begins to piece together her motive and her objective.

What an intriguing book, and one where readers are kept off-guard from start to end. It's also a hard book to review without spoilers. Matthew Roarke is a driven character who we come to know in small bits. He is intuitive, yet logical; a perfect balance for someone in his job. But it's the female character who keeps us going. Initially, we don't know the identity of the killer until the "ah-ha" moment, and the tension builds from there.

Information on the main characters is provided in bits as the story progresses.  It is that information that then provides a motive for their actions.  Damien Epps, Roarke's second, is the breath of fresh air.

That the story is told in days heightens the suspense.  The story alternatives between Roarke and the woman, and it works.  The introduction of a man and his 14-year-old child raises the stakes even higher.  The author has an ability not only to set the scene, but to convey the underlying emotions of it—"He steps through the open doorway, past the carved wooden door, into the entry hall with its white painted brick walls and tiled floor. … The terror has turned every cell in his body to ice; his feet can barely move him forward."  

Just as Sokoloff has not given the investigators anything definite they can track, she leaves the reader directionless.  It is clear the moon has significance, but what is unknown.  However, evil, the sense of it, is a prevalent and effective theme.

As the story progresses, the killer takes on the identity first as "Huntress," and finally her name and background are revealed with a powerful twist.  The author's skill is clear in the killer's progression. I don't recall another author being able to transition one's attitude toward a killer in the way Sokoloff does.

This is not a perfect book. There are some plot holes and weaknesses such as the description of the Tenderloin, which is not nearly as grim as portrayed.  The primary thing which did not ring true is Roarke, an FBI Agent, seemingly surprised by the idea of a female serial killer. He just couldn't be that naïve. Another slight miss was the inference of a supernatural element that was not developed. 

HUNTRESS MOON, the first in the series, is rather the first chapter in one long book with an arching theme: Evil. It is a page-turner and truly a popcorn book in that no one will be able to read just one. If you like the first, chances are you will want to continue.

HUNTRESS MOON (PolProc-Agent Matthew Roarke-WestCoast-Contemp) – VG+
Sokoloff, Alexandria – 1st in series
Thomas & Mercer, Jan 2015, 386 pp

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

A Fatal Lie by Charles Todd

 

First Sentence: On his sixth birthday, Roddy MacNabb was given a fishing pole by his pa, with promises to teach him how to use it.

Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge is sent to Northern Wales where a man's body was pulled from the River Dee by a young boy. It's first thought the man had fallen from the viaduct that spans high above the river, put there are no signs of a fall, no identification on the body, and no one claims to know him. Only a few clues lead Rutledge on a trail to identify the victim, recreate the man's recent travels, and uncover both the motive and the person responsible for the man's death, and those that follow.

Authors strive to create a good "hook," the opening which will compel the reader to keep turning the pages. Todd's opening does that very effectively.

Ian is a unique character. Shell shock; i.e., PTSD, from WWI has left him with the voice of Hamish, a soldier executed for desertion, in his head. We are reminded of the cost of war, not only in the number of the dead, but the lasting impact on the veterans and their families—"A fine soldier, liked by his men, he didn't suffer, and we must be proud of him, for he gave his life for his King and Country. That isn't terribly reassuring, is it?"

It is always fascinating to read about the forensics of the time. Todd weaves details of places, such as the operations of the aqueduct, and history, the Bantam Battalions, smoothly into the story. These create strong visual images and play into the fact that in the days before technology, police work was done by pulling the thread of clues, a lot of travel, and intuition.

One does need to keep track of who is where. Between the character names and Ian traveling from place to place, and back again, it can become confusing. Pulling up a map proves helpful. It is also a challenge to follow the timeline. There is a lack of clarity as to when things happened as there can be the impression of something happening in the past only to realize it is in the recent past. Follow the trail of bodies which are always one step in front of Ian. Yet it seems to take a while before any real progress is made and then, after all the to-ing and fro-ing, there is the great and complete confession. Good grief.

"A Fatal Lie" is a good book, but not as good as usual. The dialogue was weak, the usual wry humor was completely lacking, and the book could have used some serious editing and simplifying. One wonders whether because of COVID, the authors had little to do but write, so they just kept putting things in. Here's hoping for a crisper, more involving book #24.

A FATAL LIE (HistMys-Ian Rutledge-England-1921) - Okay
Todd, Charles – 23rd in series
William Morrow, 349 pp – Feb 2021