Tuesday, April 26, 2022

A Litter of Bones by J.D. Kirk

First Sentence: The total collapse of Duncan Reid's life began with a gate in the arse-end of nowhere.

The past comes back to haunt DCI Jack Logan. A boy has disappeared, and the case has all the characteristics of "Mister Whisper," a serial child-killer Logan put away ten years ago. When another child goes missing, Jack is sent to lead the investigation. Did Jack have the wrong man all those years ago? Is this a copycat? Either way, Jack needs to do everything possible to rescue the boy.

It takes very little time to recognize the quality of Kirk's writing and his skill for dialogue. He provides a well-done introduction to Logan's team and their personalities. PC Sinead Bell and DC Hamza Khaled are particularly well utilized in their roles.

One appreciates the hints of humour with their very Scottish flair—"But in a minute, I'm going to hear a cry for help from within this house, giving me no choice but to break this door down and investigate." …Sinead hesitated, then nodded. …He watched as Sinead leaned past him, turned the handle, and pushed the door open. "It's the Highlands," she told him. "We don't always lock our doors." What a good example of Logan being out of his element while showing his fallibility.

Kirk establishes an excellent sense of place, whether it be a small, mid-terrace house, or an open area. Yet it is the excellence of conveying the fear and frustration of the family which is particularly compelling. His ability to escalate suspense is palpable, cementing the plot as being a ripping page-turner filled with wicked twists. Be aware that there are scenes related to animal torture, and others not for the faint of stomach.

LITTER OF BONES is a straight-through, non-stop read filled with great characters, action, suspense, emotional impact, twists, and just enough humor for balance. There are no portents, just a wicked good story that keeps on turning the pages. It is dark, and there are scenes unpleasant to read, yet the positive qualities outweigh the negative and compel one to read the next book.

LITTER OF BONES (PolProc-DCI Jack Logan-Scotland-Contemp) – Ex
Kirk, J.D. – 1st in series
Zertex Crime, Oct 2020, 320 pp.

Monday, April 18, 2022

The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb

First Sentence:  On the morning of the worst, most earth-shattering day of Ray McMillian's life, he ordered room service:  scrambled eggs for two, one side of regular bacon (for Nicole), one side of vegan sausage (for him), one coffee (for Nicole), one orange juice (for him)

Ray McMillian is black and a classical violinist.  He has overcome poverty, racism, and the censure of his own mother.  Two people have been his principal support; his Grandma Nora who gifted him the violin which had belonged to his once enslaved great-great-grandfather, and his violin teacher, Janice Stevens. After being in New York City with his girlfriend Nicole for several days, he is about to leave for the Tchaikovsky Competition in Russia when he discovers his beloved violin, discovered to be a Stradivarius, has been stolen and is being held for a $5 million ransom. 

It is a gripping read when one starts a book at 10 p.m. and reads straight through until 3 a.m.  From first page to last, this is a book impossible to put down as it is so much more than a mystery.

While a crime has been committed, this is a book about racism and greed.  But it also shows that with the love and support of just a few people, as well as determination, perseverance, and passion, one can accomplish great things. Still, too, there is a mystery within the mystery.  Much of the story's tension arises from the question of who really owns his $10 million Stradivarius.  This becomes a battle between Ray, his family, and the Marks family whose ancestors owned Ray's "PopPop." 

An unusual format takes one from the present to Ray's childhood and forward to the present.  One is drawn into Ray's life.  From his experiences with casual and overt racism, from beginning with a school violin to the Strad, one grows as Ray does.  However, it is the descriptions of Ray's playing and performing that are truly transportive. Comparisons to the book/series "The Queen's Gambit" about a young, female chess master, are to be expected.

THE VIOLIN CONSPIRACY is a remarkable debut.  It is not a perfect book, yet one really doesn't care. It is a book that leaves one thinking long after closing the covers and may even draw one back for a second reading.

THE VIOLIN CONSPIRACY (Myst-Ray McMillian-various- Contemp/1880s) – Ex
Slocumb, Brendan – 1st book
Anchor, Feb 2022, 352 pp.