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.