Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The Nesting by C.J. Cooke

First Sentence: Aurelia sprints through the dark forest, her white nightdress billowing like a cloud, her strides long and swift across the carpet of bark and brambles.

Lexi Ellis has a troubled past but grabs an opportunity. She becomes Sophie Hallerton, nanny to the daughters of architect Tom Faraday on an isolated property in Norway. Far from an idyllic situation, there are things that can't be explained and the suspicion that Farraday's late wife didn't die by suicide after all.

This is one of the rare times the prologue actually works. Cooke's descriptions, metaphors, and inclusion of Norse folk tales add to the pleasure of the story. Tom is an annoying and perhaps inept architect, but his youngest daughter, Gaia is delightful. One appreciates how Lexi/Sophia grows through the story. She is strong; a survivor. When she commits acts traditionally thought of as "too stupid to live," it makes sense and is in keeping with her personality.

Cooke is very good at seeding doubt about the characters. While not a huge fan of unreliable characters, it works perfectly here. The story alternates between two time periods, but in a way that is clearly indicated and not at all confusing.

For those who enjoy a bit of paranormal mixed with suspense, this is very well done. Norse folktales, elk, spectral figures are a few of the bump-in-the-night elements. The story sends shivers up the spine without crossing into horror. Best of all, it serves a purpose to the plot.

There are inconsistencies and a questionable ending. There is quite a bit of foreshadowing, but it works. However, the twists, metaphors—"Grief is not a mere felling—it's an isotropic space.", pacing, characters, plot, concept and heart-pounding climax completely offset those issues. Her descriptions make both locations and emotions real.

The Nesting is far from the typical Scandinavian noir. It's a book one doesn't put down, and an author to be read again.

THE NESTING (Susp-Sophie-Norway-Contemp) – G+
Cooke, C.J. – Standalone
HarperCollins, Oct 2020

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor

First Sentence: "It's an unfortunate situation."

Reverend Jack Brooks and 14-year-old daughter Flo have been transferred to Chapel Croft in Sussex. A community with a very dark past, including the burning of martyrs, the disappearance of two girls, and the suicide of a priest. With no one being who they seem and not knowing who to trust, can Jack and Flo survive while exposing closely guarded secrets?

The best books grab you from page one and don't let go. This book does just that. One thing to know; there are a lot of bodies; new, old, spectral, and real. The story is more suspense than mystery, and never boring.

Tudor has a compelling voice. It's engaging and conversational in both outward dialogue and internal thoughts. Jack and daughter Flo hold one's attention and curiosity to know more. It's nice that Flo acts appropriately for her age. However, both occasionally suffer from going into danger alone, yet both are also smart, brave, and interesting.

Beyond the elements of voice and character, there is a plethora of memorable passages: another indication of a talented author. Tudor makes one stop and think—"We all have our hiding places. Not just physical ones. Places deep inside where we put away the things we don't want others to see."

Rather than having an unreliable narrator, this is the case of "trust no one" in the best possible way. No one is who they seem and everyone has secrets.

There is an abundance of very effective plot twists and revelations from beginning to end. Some of them scare, some cause one to gasp, all of them a surprise.

It's hard to say much about the plot without saying too much and spoiling the suspense and the fun of reading it. The only problems were a couple silly, editing issues. Ignore them.

"The Burning Girls" is a great, escapist read, especially for those who like a bit of dark, eepy-creepy. There is a supernatural element, but that only enhances this being an enjoyably engrossing, page-turning book that keeps one reading way too late into the night. One may, however, want to leave the light on. The story holds one's attention from the first page to last and makes one happy Tudor has more books to read.

THE BURNING GIRLS (Thriller-Reverend Jack Brooks-Sussex, England-Contemp) – VG+
Tudor, C.J. – Standalone
Ballentine Books, Feb 2021, 352 pp

Friday, December 17, 2021

State of Terror by Hillary Clinton and Louise Penny

First Sentence: "Madame Secretary," said Charles Boynton, hurrying beside his boss as she rushed down Mahogany Row to her office in the State Department. "You have eight minutes to get to the Capitol."

Secretary of State Ellen Adams is flying back from the first diplomatic assignment of her term, a failed meeting in South Korea. Given no time to freshen up, she is summoned to the Office of the President of the United States, a man who would love to see her fail at her job. State Department employee Anahita Dahir receives a cryptic text which she originally dismisses as spam. A terrorist in London, suddenly makes the message clear to Anahita, which sends the Secretary on an international diplomatic mission to stop a monster from destroying cities, and lives, around the world.

What is the sign of a good book? Starting it, intending to read only the first two pages but ending up continuing past midnight. That is a good book. Waking up at 4 a.m. and reading for several more hours, that makes a winner. So it was with "State of Terror." The writing is wonderful in that one can hear the voices of both Clinton and Penny. There are classic touches of humor, and lines one wants to remember—"The true nature of terror is the unknown. The truly terrible thrives in silence."

How nice to have protagonists be women of a certain age who aren't young, gorgeous, and don't need a man to rescue them. They are strong, capable, smart, and very determined. At the same time, they are human; willing to question their own judgment, while trusting their own instincts and reason. In other words, these are women one would want to know and even better, be.

This is not a political book, but one of true suspense. It is a fascinating look at the role, albeit, we hope, somewhat exaggerated, of a Secretary of State. There is an excellent building of tension every step along the way. The inclusion of a family member in danger could be trite but was not. For fans of Louise Penny, there are clever Easter eggs scattered along the way and crossover references to her Three Pines series. With each chapter, there's a new twist; with each page, the tension mounts.

State of Terror is an exciting, suspenseful roller-coaster ride with wonderfully done twists and a compelling plot. Just when you think things may be okay, there is an intriguing hint of uncertainty and a possible hint to the next book. One certainly hopes there is a next book. One of the best reads of 2021, it is highly recommended.

STATE OF TERROR (Suspense-Ellen Adams-International-Contemp) – Ex
Clinton, Hillary / Louise Penny – Standalone
Simon & Schuster / St. Martin's Press, Oct 2021, 486 pp.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Dead Ground by M.W. Craven

First Sentence: The man wearing a Sean Connery mask said to the man wearing a Daniel Craig Mas, 'Bertrand the monkey and Raton the cat are sitting by the fire, watching chestnuts roast in the hearth.

Detective Sergeant Poe and analyst Matilda "Tilly" Bradshaw are part of Britian's Serious Crimes Analysis Section (SCAS). They hunt serial killers and serial rapists. Investigating the murder of a man found in a pop-up brothel is not their function, but the victim's connection to the US Secretary of State means MI5 and the FBI are involved, and Poe and Bradshaw are assigned to solve the murder.

Although it is always good to read a series from the beginning, Craven provides enough structure that, due to an effective opening that then takes one into the story where he introduces many of the major players along the way, one may jump straight in. He is also clever in making the victim someone other than the top official while making the importance of the summit clear and leaving the plot plenty of scope to travel down other paths. He writes very short chapters. Each is a scene that keeps the story moving forward.

Craven also understands that some of the major elements so critical to a good story are humor—"From Harry Potter to prostitutes in three easy moves—that was quite a turnaround."; dialogue which is quick and crisp; and relationships, not only is Poe protective of Tilly, but she is of him as well. The partnership is also an excellent way of including detailed information which is understood by Tilly and enables her to explain it to both Poe and to the reader. Where Tilly is logic, Poe is emotion and determination. While some of the technology is fascinating, it is also terrifying as some of it is real.

The plot is original and brilliant with an excellent flow that proceeds at breakneck speed still giving one time to take an occasional breath. This is not a story one can predict. Characters are often not who one thinks they are. The revelations are not only surprising but occasionally shocking and cleverly constructed. As each occurs, one feels they should have seen it but didn't because the story is so absorbing. The masterful twists and red herrings continue to the very end. The tension of the climax is gripping, the final resolution well done, and the very end a perfect lead-in to subsequent books.

"Dead Ground" is an excellent read. The depth and excitement of the rapid-paced plot causes non-stop reading and puts Craven's name on the list of "must-read" authors.

DEAD GROUND (Thriller/PolProc-Poe/Tilly-Cumbria, Lake District, England-Contemp) - Ex
Craven, M.W. – 4th in series
Constable, Jun 2021, 428 pp.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny

First Sentence:  "This doesn't feel right, patron." 

Having discovered Louise from the beginning, she has always been a "must-read" author. Still, every author has an "off" book, and this was one.

From the first page, there was a feeling of "Too soon, it's too soon." The pandemic is far from over; it may never be. The controversial character is one some may recognize. The themes focused more on practices from the past, which were truly appalling, and their possible application in the present, an equally appalling thought.  While those issues deserved to be highlighted, there was a heavy-handedness that rather overtook the mystery itself.

On the positive side, it was nice going back to the beginning of Armand's relationship with a young Jean-Guy, including the four sentences of wisdom, as well as the quote from "The Little Prince"--"And now here is my secret, a very simple secret.  It is only with the heart that one can see rightly:  what is essential is invisible to the eye."  The use of profane nicknames was initially amusing. Now, they feel overused.  There must be a better way to exemplify the complexity of Ruth.

The biggest issue was the need for serious editing; two-hundred fewer pages would have been a significant improvement.   There is much that is profound and important here, and Louise remains one of the most quotable authors to be found. Unfortunately, it becomes lost in redundancy.  As with fine cooking, the best dishes are made with only a few ingredients but made perfectly. 

Not that there weren't high points. The best was the scene between Armand and Jean-Guy in the pub. It was powerful and emotional; something at which Louise is particularly skilled. 

"The Madness of Crowds" is only one of three, out of 17 books, which was disappointing.  All-in-all, that's not bad and many will disagree with that assessment.  Here's hoping Louise's next book goes back to the basics of character and mystery, and less focus on social issues.  

THE MADNESS OF CROWDS (PolProc-Armand Gamache-Three Pines, Canada-Contemp)- Okay
Penny, Louise - 17th in series
Minotaur Books - 2021 - 432 pp.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Sleeping Nymph by Ilaria Tuti

First Sentence: Teresa often thinks of death.

A 70-year-old painting, "The Sleeping Nymph," has become a case for Superintendent Teresa Battaglia when testing discovers it was painted in blood and contains small matter of a human heart. The subject was a real woman who died in 1945. The artist is still alive but hasn't spoken a word in decades. But who was this mystery woman? Who killed her? It is up to Teresa to find out.

The opening is more than just a hook, it is emotion at its most raw. Tutti doesn't write with words, she writes with images. She doesn't just show places, she takes one there, engaging all the senses. She is an author who makes one think and feel and underlining passages to be remembered—"Teresa was aware that memory was not a process of reproduction, but of reconstruction.", and "A memory is nothing more than a single clear moment recorded fortuitously by the mind and surrounded by many others, all out of focus." There are so many such moments--"Tempus valet, volat, velat." Time is valuable, it flees and it conceals.

The description of Superintendent Teresa Battilana gives one the sense of the energy which emanates from her. The relationship between Teresa and her second, Insp. Massimo Marini, is more than batman to boss but less than parent to child. There is respect, caution, a bit of fear, and distance yet caring. The banter and teasing between them is delightful. Both are complicated characters with very real fears about which one learns as the story progresses. At a point of crisis for Teresa, Tuti makes palpable Teresa's fear and confusion. The character of Blanco Zago and her human detection dog Smoky are wonderful and unexpected, but Tutti specializes in the unexpected. Blanco's explanation as to how a sniffer dog works is educational, as is the information about the partisans.

The plot deals with a murder, both during WWII and in the present, yet each element is critical to the story. The history one learns is important, as it looks at a very different culture and beliefs within a country. It is refreshing to have a book set in a less-familiar location and the Resia Valley is certainly that. It is a place where the residents live in an isolated, genetically pure commune, speak an archaic dialect, and where mysticism still lives.

As wonderful as is the writing, and as interesting as is some of the extraneous information, the plot is convoluted. The story would be much better and more suspenseful, not to mention shorter, with a strong editor at hand. The middle section is a bit of a slog, and Massimo's personal struggles do become tiresome. Even so, there is good suspense. One can't help but admire and feel the same loyalty to Teresa as does her team. She lets nothing stand in the way of solving the mystery.

"The Sleeping Nymph" is not a slam-bang type of book, and not up to the standard of Tutti's first book, "Flowers Over the Inferno." However, it is a progressive journey through history and pain, both past and present. It is self-realization and hope. It requires patience, and it is worth the journey.

THE SLEEPING NYMPH (PolProc-Sup. Teresa Battaglia, No. Italy-Contemp) - Good
Tuti, Ilaria – 2nd of trilogy
Soho Crime, Sep 2020, 458 pp.

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