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Friday, February 16, 2018

A Whisper of Bones by Ellen Hart

Whew, this is the 25th book in the Jane Lawless series, but the first one I've read.

A Whisper of Bones involves PI and restaurateur Jane Lawless--an interesting combination of careers.  

From description:  Britt Ickles doesn't remember much from her only visit to her mother's childhood home when she was a kid, except for playing with her cousin Timmy and the eruption of a sudden family feud. That's why, when she drops by unannounced after years of silence, she's shocked when her aunts tell her Timmy never existed, that she must be confusing him with someone else. But Britt can't shake the feeling that Timmy did exist...and that something horrible has happened to him. Something her aunts want to cover up.

Britt is disbelieving and angry about her aunts response and hires Jane to find out more about the boy she remembers.  Britt's aunts rent rooms in their large old home to help make ends meet, and Jane decides renting a room might help her get to the bottom of the mystery.  

A fire destroys the old detached garage and during the investigation, bones are discovered in the root cellar.  Do they belong to Timmy?  The secrets are many and of long-standing.

An interesting assortment of well-developed characters.

Read in December, 2017; blog review scheduled for Feb. 16, 2018.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

PI Mystery.  Feb. 27, 2018.  Print length:  320 pages.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Letters in the Mail and in Books

Two letter writing challenges take place in February--A Month of Letters and InCoWriMo.  I've done A Month of Letters before, but not this year.  I have been busy with catching up with mail I owed, some postcards to the grand's, a birthday postcard.  I love getting letters in the mail, and I love decorating envelopes and homemade postcards--it brings out the child in me--to cut and paste, paint, collage, etc.  

Finding a letter in mailbox is a treat I never tire of, and while it is exciting to get a decorated envelope, it is the message inside that means the most.  Some of my favorite letters have nothing on the envelope but a canceled stamp and my address, but inside is a handwritten message that catches me up with what is going on in a friend's life.

I'm interested in this book by Nina Sankovitch after reading Leslie Stahl's comment:

How sad to think our children may never get a letter from a friend or a lover, the art of both—the sentiment and penmanship—fading away like an old Polaroid. Nina Sankovitch’s lovely, elegant book about the intimacy of letters is rich with treasures from politicians, soldiers, mothers, prisoners, husbands, and wooers. It is a joy to read, savor, and remember.” – Lesley Stahl

I try to write my grands pretty regularly, mostly with postcards, so they will have had the experience of receiving personal mail addressed to them.  Only one of my grands has ever written back, but I treasure those few letters.  It is difficult to compete with technology, which is why I find the InCoWriMo term "vintage social media" especially appealing.
A postcard to my granddaughter.  

This is an excellent article:  9 Reasons Not to Abandon the Art of the Handwritten Letter

Some of  my favorite  books are written in epistolary style:  Dracula84, Charing Cross Road, Griffin & Sabine, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The Historian, Sorcery & Cecelia....  And I enjoy letters written by famous people, and fan letters to authors and the replies, and The Graceful Envelope, and hand illustrated letters on Pinterest, and more mail art on Pinterest.

The next letter writing challenge is in April--The National Card and Letter Writing Month sponsored by the United States Postal Service.  Not that you have to wait to write letters or send cards through the mail.  I like the idea of setting my own challenges--a letter a week or two a month or whenever I feel like it!  :)

Do you write letters or send cards?
Is letter writing really too old-fashioned in the world of email and text messaging?
What are your favorite books about letters or written in the form of letters?

Friday, February 09, 2018

Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley and Force of Nature by Jane Harper

Death Below Stairs was recommended by Wendy, and when I realized that Jennifer Ashley also writes as Ashley Gardner (the author of the  Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries, which I've enjoyed), I was in.  Death Below Stairs is the first in a new series and is a bit cozier than the Captain Lacey series, but it was fun.  The first book sets up characters and situations, and I expect the next installment to be even better.

Kat Holloway is a cook, and with the help of Mrs. Beeton (kind of like the Victorian Martha Stewart), Kat manages delicious meals and a tight kitchen.  It was funny to see her recipes and kitchen techniques taken straight from Mrs. Beeton's Everyday Cookery and Housekeeping Book, while dealing with a murder and a plot against the Crown.

 A Soupcon of Poison is a prequel novella that gives some background on the main characters.  I may get around to it later, but simply for curiosity because Death Below Stairs doesn't actually depend on it and works well enough on its own.  The beginning was a little slow, but once I felt comfortable with the characters and the action picked up, I enjoyed the ride.  I look forward to seeing Kat, Daniel, Lady Cynthia, and Elgin Thanos.

NetGalley/Berkley Publishing Group

Historical Mystery.  Jan. 2, 2018.  Print length:  313 pages.

Force of Nature by Jane Harper is the second book in the Aaron Falk series.  I still haven't read The Dry and now am even more eager to.  

From the book description:  When five colleagues are forced to go on a corporate retreat in the wilderness, they reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking down the muddy path.
But one of the women doesn’t come out of the woods. And each of her companions tells a slightly different story about what happened.
The missing woman is Alice Russell, who has been helping Falk and Carmen Cooper with their financial investigation of BaileyTennants accountancy firm.  Falk has been pressured to get some contracts from Alice, and in turn, has pressured Alice.  He is worried and feeling that he may be responsible if her disappearance has anything to do with the investigation.

The setting in the bush land of the Giralang Ranges has to be considered a character for its inhospitable terrain and connection with a serial killer from twenty years ago.  But all of the characters come to life, especially the five women who get off lost in the bush, suffer accidents and loss of equipment, and whose personalities and histories begin to clash.

The story separates into two strands, the hikers in a day by day account, and the investigators whose search becomes more and more despairing.  The team-building purpose of the corporate retreat falls apart; secrets and hidden grudges surface as the women struggle through the hostile setting.  Even when four of the women manage to reach help, the question of what happened to Alice remains.  The force of nature is two-fold--that of the natural environment and of the personal natures of the five women.  Compelling reading. 

NetGalley/Flatiron Books

Mystery/Suspense.  Feb. 6, 2016.  Print length:  320 pages. 

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Mister Tender's Girl by Carter Wilson

Mister Tender's Girl by Carter Wilson was inspired by the Slenderman meme and the resulting real-life case. Mister Tinder, however, is perhaps a more interesting character, charismatic and handsome, but just as deadly.

This is a creepy thriller that held me fast throughout the majority of the book.  Mister Tender, a popular graphic novel created by Alice Hill's father, fascinates a large audience.  Mister Tender, a handsome bartender, listens carefully to the complaints of his customers, then asks what they would be willing to sacrifice to attain what they want.

When Alice was fourteen, she is brutally stabbed by two of her classmates who have not only been influenced by the graphic novels, but have received letters from Mister Tender.  Yet...Mister Tender is a fiction.  Right?

Her father quits writing the novels, her parents eventually separate, and her mother takes Alice and her brother to the U.S.  

In the last two years, Alice has been able to establish herself in better circumstances.  She owns a popular coffee shop and a home, but still suffers from PTSD and severe, disabling panic attacks that can last for hours.

As the yearly anniversary of the attack approaches, Alice discovers that someone is watching her, invading her privacy, and has even established an online site that focuses on Alice and the attack.  The invasion into her life is chilling--the publication of her new name and address and prurient interest in her life terrifies her.

Moving to the U.S., changing her name, and developing her self-defense skills are not protecting Alice from the disturbing sense that things are going from bad to worse.  Very soon, the bad begins to happen and the worse is yet to come.

Even as Alice tries to fight her harrowing circumstances, the knowledge of her watcher is usually a step ahead of her.  

Sinister, full of menace throughout most of the book, Mister Tender's Girl took a few turns at the end that lowered my opinion.  Nevertheless, if you want a book that will keep you glued to the pages, this one will do it.

Read in Jan.:  blog review scheduled for Feb. 7, 2018.

NetGalley/Sourcebooks Landmark

Thriller.  February 13, 2018.  Print length:  400 pages.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Everything Is Lies by Helen Callaghan

Two time periods and a twisty plot keeps Helen Callaghan's Everything Is Lies moving back and forth as a daughter discovers her mother's memoir after Nina MacKenzie's  apparent suicide.

After a call from her mother insisting she come home, Sophia reluctantly returns home the next day to find her father in serious condition and her mother dead.  The police assume that Nina attempted to kill her husband and then committed suicide, but Sophia does not believe it possible that her mother could have harmed Sophia's father or killed herself.

Upon learning that Nina had finally written her memoir, and that the manuscript is missing, Sophia is determined to find and read it.

When she locates her mother's notebooks, she is immersed in a story of Nina's youth and association with a charismatic personality and a house called Morningstar.   

Dark and full of secrets that Sophia could never have imagined about the parents she thought she knew, and yet...there is a final reckoning that is almost too much for Sophia to accept.

Read in November; blog review scheduled for Feb. 5, 2018.

NetGalley/Penguin UK

Mystery/Suspense.  February 22, 2018.  

Friday, February 02, 2018

No Time to Spare by Ursula Le Guin

I'm still reading Ursula Le Guin's No Time to Spare.  Slowly.  When Le Guin was eighty-one, she started blogging, and the essays in the book were selected from her blog posts.  She died at eighty-eight on Jan. 22.

I mentioned on my other blog, that I was about half-way through the book when Ursula Le Guin died.  I stopped reading the essays for a while, but have returned to them,  reading one or more every day or so.  Some essays are light and charming--there are several dealing with her new kitten and his personality.  

However, her thoughtful commentary about aging, literature, men and women, the environment, capitalism, advertising/propaganda, and politics--these are the essays that engage me.    They make me think and question.  They require some time spent reflecting or ruminating and probably require more than one reading.

Le Guin's place in the world of speculative fiction is unquestioned; her works are classics that have won award after award and have influenced many other writers of science fiction and fantasy.  About her fiction, Le Guin once said something to the effect that entertainment if well and good, but "does it make them think?"  I've certainly been thinking about her nonfiction essays.

NetGalley/Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt

Nonfiction. Essays.  December, 2017.  Print length:  215 pages.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Lullaby Road by James Anderson and Dark Pines by Will Dean

I missed Anderson's first installment in this trilogy and will have to go back and pick up The Never- Open Desert Diner at some point, but that did not impede my enjoyment of Lullaby Road.  While I realized I had missed a great deal of backstory covered in the first book, Lullaby Road and the episodic adventures of trucker Ben Jones--half Indian, half Jew, raised in foster homes, and inclined to trouble--was engrossing.

Most of Ben's customers in Utah's high desert are a breed apart.  Eccentric, independent, unorthodox, outcasts--from Cowboy Roy to Preacher John and more--the "desert rats" that Ben supplies with everything from water to propane are human curiosities.  

Ben is basically a decent man who gets involved in situations even as he chastises himself for doing so.  Already saddled with taking his neighbor's infant with him on a run, when he stops to fill up his truck, the owner says someone has left a package for him at one of the pumps.  What he finds is a five-year-old child with a note saying that the father is in bad trouble, but trusts Ben to care for his son Juan.  The owner of the station has locked up and won't respond to Ben who demands some answers.  Now he has an infant, a young child who doesn't speak, and a dog on his journey.

This novel is not a straight-forward narrative, it moves from one location and event to another--each populated by oddball characters.  The journey becomes dangerous for several reasons as Ben does his best to deliver infant and child to safety.  A picaresque novel that has some humor and some grim situations and as many stories as Ben has customers.

The conclusion doesn't answer all the questions, and there is one question that will stay on my mind until the third installment.  The answer better be there!

NetGalley/Crown Publishing

Mystery?  Jan. 16, 2018.  Print length:  320 pages

Dark Pines is as atmospheric as Lullaby Road, but instead of the bleak expansiveness of the desert, the setting is the looming menace of the forest of Utgard near the small town of Gavrik, Sweden.  Both novels have a full contingent of odd characters.

Tuva Moodyson, a deaf reporter, has returned to Sweden, leaving a more promising arena in London to be closer to her terminally ill mother.  

This must be the year of deaf protagonists for me, and Tuva has some similarities to Caleb Zelic (Resurrection Bay And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic).  Both lost their hearing very young as a result of meningitis, both are determined to pursue the career each has chosen, and both are irritated when people comment that they "sound so normal."  

Tuva, however, is unapologetic about drawing attention to the fact that she doesn't hear well even with her hearing aids and needs to record statements to be certain she hasn't missed anything.  She also takes pleasure in the silence when she removes her hearing aids.   Tuva exhibits none of Caleb's desire to hide his deafness; she accepts her lack of hearing and is comfortable with it.  

When a hunter is killed, the entire town of Gavrik develops an inexorable fear that there will be a recurrence of the Medusa murders that took place in the 90's.  For Tuva, the story may mean a huge step in her career as an investigative journalist.  When a second hunter is murdered, the connection to the Medusa murders is affirmed by the trophies taken.  

A determined and resolute protagonist, Tuva needs to overcome her fear of the malevolent atmosphere of Utgard Forest and the increasing animosity of Gavrik's citizens to pursue her story.

A fine debut by Will Dean and a new and intriguing character in Tuva Moodyson.

NetGalley/Oneworld Publications

Mystery/Suspense.  Jan. 4, 2018.  Print length:  400 pages.  

Monday, January 29, 2018

On Ghost Stories, The Dead House, and Turn of the Screw

The Dead House by Billy O'Callaghan is rather spooky ghost story that has its roots in the Irish potato famine.  When Maggie, an English artist, seeks sanctuary after a brutal attack, she discovers a place in Ireland that seems made to order.  A ramshackle cottage that needs a complete overhaul in a setting that speaks to every fiber of her artistic center...and perhaps, to something else.  

You can read the description elsewhere, but the main characters are Mike, an art dealer in London; Maggie, an artist; and Alison, who has a gallery in Ireland.  The three are tied together through friendship, and in the case of Mike and Ali, something developing into love.  

The frame of the novel is similar to that of Henry James' Turn of the Screw and the book seems to be heavily influenced by James' work--in both content and style.

The pervasive sense of the sinister which James achieved is lacking, however, because O'Callaghan breaks it up with Mike's relationship with Ali, lighter episodes that relieve some of the tension.

The writing is often lyrical, but something about the logic goes awry.  Turn of the Screw is ambiguous--is it a ghost story or a psychological deterioration?  The first time I read it in high school, I thought it the most chilling ghost story ever.  On subsequent reads over the years, I recognized the other possibility, which is equally as chilling, perhaps even more so.  The sense of unease remains, the ambiguity remains, and whichever way you read it, Turn of the Screw is a frightening tale.

The Dead House is a ghost story that draws on James' work, but lacks the layers, the Freudian aura, the question of whether or not the young children,  Miles and Flora, have been corrupted by evil, and the story's refusal to take a side, to guide you to one conclusion or another.  Henry James left the interpretation up to the reader, but regardless of how one reads it, the experience is harrowing.  O'Callaghan leaves you with a ghost story that doesn't quite end, almost as if a sequel could be possible.

The Dead House has garnered many positive reviews, but it lacked some mysterious quality that allowed me to "suspend my disbelief."  

For me,  The Turn of the Screw remains the epitome of an excellent ghost story regardless of how you interpret it.  My second favorite is The Broken Girls by Simone St. James which combines a genuine ghost story and a mystery.

NetGalley/Skyhorse Publishing

Paranormal/Ghost Story.  first published 2017; May 2018.  Print length: 224 pages.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

How Do You Feel About...

I know some of you have pondered this question as well:  Why do so many mysteries and thrillers have an overwhelming amount of violence against women?  I'm not going to give up reading some of these books, but I am always relieved when I find an excellent mystery that doesn't have graphic violence or women who are abused/controlled/sexually assaulted/tortured/dismembered as major elements of the story.  

Of course, it does depend, to some degree, on how it is handled. Some authors use the violence as sexual titillation, others avoid that aspect.  Is that why we also love kick-ass women protagonists who can turn the tables?

I found this article encouraging:  The Staunch book prize has been founded to honour books where ‘no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered’

It is an interesting article with comments from Andrew Taylor and Val McDermid about it being easier said than done.  If you read the article tell me what you think.  

Maybe it has been on my mind more lately because of the abuses that have been making the news lately, but ...

Does it seem like the number of books with this focus has increased in recent years?  
How does violence against women in film and novels make you feel?  
Can you think of recent crime/mystery/ suspense novels that you really liked that don't have this as a major plot element?

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Other Side of Everything by Lauren Doyle Owens and Shadow Play by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Three points of view make up The Other Side of Everything, and the novel's main interest for me has to do more with the characters than the crimes.  The first crime provides an inciting moment that begins changes in outlook.

Bernard, a widower, feels isolated and has little desire to do anything about it.  Amy is an artist who won't paint and her  marriage has been strained by Amy's cancer surgery, depression, and drinking.  And fifteen-year-old Maddie,whose mother just left one day, leaving Maddie, her brother, and her father bewildered and bereft.

In the small Florida community, an elderly woman is brutally killed.  The effect on each of our protagonists is different, but far-reaching.  Then another elderly woman is murdered, the police are making no headway, and the entire  community feels besieged.

I really liked the insight into the three main characters, each one presenting emotional and social problems:  the difficulties of an aging population, the intense trauma of cancer, the feeling of being deserted by someone you love.  And more.

Just an aside-- as Bernard frequently drops into memories of the small community, he remembers an exceptionally cold winter when iguanas froze and fell from trees.  An unusual cold for Florida.  Now, in January, I just read an article about that happening during our current deep freeze!

 Read in January.


Crime/Mystery.  Jan. 23, 2018.  Print length: 272 pages.

Shadow Play is another well-plotted police procedural from Harrod-Eagles that follows Bill Slider and his team as they investigate the murder of a well-dressed man found in the yard of a car workshop.  First the team must identify the man, then the investigations becomes even more confusing.  

I felt less connected to Slider in this one. but Porson and his malapropisms remain amusing, partly because he is a genuinely supportive boss, and Atherton is making a gradual change from playboy to a more mature character.  

Read in Oct.; review scheduled for Jan. 25, 2018

NetGalley/Severn House

Police Procedural.  Feb. 1, 2018.  Print length:  224 pages.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Look for Me by Lisa Gardner

In 2016, I read Find Me by Gardner, a dark book, but a fascinating one (reviewed here).  Gardner's D.D. Warren series is one of my favorites, but Find Me was especially intriguing because of the character of Flora Dane.  

Look for Me doubled my enjoyment because Gardner brought back Flora Dane, and (gradually) the disciplined detective D.D. Warren and the "survivor-turned-avenger" Flora Dane are able to work together to solve the murder of a family.

Four members of a family are murdered and a teenage girl is missing.  It is uncertain whether Roxy is also a victim, or perhaps, the guilty party.  This isn't the story of the perfect family, but it is a story of efforts made to overcome some of the dysfunctions that exist.  

I liked Gardner's empathetic approach to the characters and difficulties in the novel.  While often easier to reduce things to black and white, life rarely operates without backstories.  

Here's hoping that Gardner will continue the partnership of D.D. and Flora.  While I enjoyed this series before Flora arrived in Find Me, the undeclared partnership works even better--and I want more of these strong and independent women working together.

(I mentioned this book here back in November as one of the ARCs that I would have to wait to review.)

Read in November; blog review scheduled for  Jan. 23, 2018.

NetGalley/Penguin Group

Crime/Police Procedural.  Feb. 6, 2018.  Print length:  400 pages.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Storm King by Brendan Duffy

The Storm King features Nate McHale, pediatric surgeon and family man, who returns to his hometown of Greystone Lake for the funeral of his first girlfriend.  Lucy disappeared on graduation night and although many assumed she ran away, Nate never believed it.

Told in alternating timelines, the "past is prologue" to the events to come.

When Nate was fourteen, the family car went over a cliff into the lake; Nate's parents and three-year-old brother all drowned, but somehow Nate survived.  The tragedy continues to influence Nate, and his high school years are full of anger at the unfairness of life.  

In the wake of his miraculous survival, people--his best friends included-- view Nate differently. Nate, Tom, Jonny, Owen, and later, Lucy are a tight knit unit, and Nate, the Storm King, is the leader.  Perceived injustices are righted, or more accurately, punished.  Adolescent Nate is not always an admirable character.  

After high school, Nate leaves Greystone Lake for college and attempts to put his high school persona behind him.  He becomes a successful and empathetic pediatric surgeon with a loving wife and an adored child, but when Lucy's body turns up after all these years, Nate returns to his hometown, determined to find out what happened to her.  However, his return to Greystone Lake will force him to acknowledge his own guilt and uncover some disturbing secrets.

The Storm King is not a comfortable read--as the tension ratchets up, you know that some of the mistakes in the past will have far-reaching consequences, and you wish you could step in and shake the boys.  There is a callousness in the "justice" the teenagers meet out in their high school years.  

What comes as a surprise is that there is a new generation of vigilantes--and their targets are Nate, Tom, Jonny, and Owen.  What goes around...

Read in September; blog review scheduled for Jan. 21, 2018.

NetGalley/Random House/Ballentine

Psychological Suspense/Mystery.  Feb. 6, 2018.  Print length:  400 pages.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Rufus Spy by Alys Clare

The Rufus Spy takes place in 1093 and involves Lassair, a young woman with magical gifts.  When two young men are murdered and a third savagely beaten, Lassair, who has returned to her home village, is old friends with the third victim and stays in his home while treating him.  

Within days, Rollo, Lassair's former lover, arrives and requests her help in escaping from a mess he has gotten himself into. Rollo, too, bears a resemblance to the three young men who have been attacked.  He believes he knows who pursues him, but is he correct?  Lassair agrees to pose as his wife and accompany Rollo on his search for King William and his aid.

Lassair, too, is carrying a secret.

I like this series better than Alys Clare's Hawkenlye series and her Gabriel Taverner series and enjoyed Lassair's latest adventure.  Oh, and I like Jack, who is dealing with strange goings on back in Cambridge.        
Read in October; blog review scheduled for Jan. 21.

NetGalley/Severn House

Medieval Mystery.  Feb. 1, 2018.  Print length:  240 pages.  

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Tracee de Hahn's A Well-Timed Murder and Sara Blaedel's The Undertaker's Daughter

Last year I read the first book in the Agnes Luthi series by Tracee de Hahn--Swiss Vendetta which I thoroughly enjoyed.  A Well-Timed Murder is the second in the series.

Injured on her last case, Agnes is still on leave when she is asked by a former colleague to assist in the take-down of a criminal that she had chased in her previous job in financial crimes.  Agnes and her colleague are at the premier watch and jewelry show Baselworld, where the world's most important watch and jewelry brands present their latest work.  And so, as it turns out, is Julien Vallotton, who has come to ask a favor of Agnes.

Julien wants Agnes to check into the death of Guy Chavanon, whose death was listed as accidental.  Guy's daughter, however, believes there is more to her father's death than an allergic reaction.    

Something I never considered is how the introduction of digital time pieces affected the Swiss watch-making industry.  It appears that Guy Chavanon, who had a reputation for big ideas, but little follow-through, may have finally come up with something that might revolutionize the industry.   If so, and many doubt it, money and reputations would be at stake. There are also some goings-on at a distinguished boarding school attended by Guy's young son.

The setting in Switzerland is just one reason I like these books.  :)

Read in November; blog review scheduled for Jan. 18, 2018.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books

Mystery/Police Procedural.  Feb. 6, 2018.  Print length:  352 pages.

The Undertaker's Daughter by Sara Blaedel is a standalone (or the first in a new series) and not part of her series featuring Louise Rick.  

It differs from Blaedel's other series: it is set in the U.S. rather than in Denmark and  the main character is a school photographer rather than a detective.

Some thirty years ago, Ilka Jensen's father deserted his family, and Ilka is shocked to learn that on her father's death three decades later, he has left her his funeral home in the U.S.  Ilka flies to Racine, Wisconsin to settle the estate.  She plans to sell the funeral home, but also to find out more about the father who deserted his family.   

However, when a body at the funeral home is vandalized, an old unsolved murder interferes with Ilka's plan for a quick sale of the business.

The Undertaker's Daughter is a rather quiet mystery, but an intriguing one.  I liked it and enjoyed the slower pace that had time for information about a business most of us would rather not discuss.  

Blog review scheduled for Jan. 18, 2018

NetGalley/Hachette Book Group

Mystery.  Feb. 6, 2018.  Print length:  336 pages.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

This Fallen Prey by Kelley Armstrong

This Fallen Prey is the third book in the Casey Duncan series set in the wilds of Canada.  Although I wasn't much taken with the first book City of the Lost, I liked A Darkness Absolute (second in the series) much better.  The series has continued to grow on me.  This Fallen Prey delivers another intense and action-filled experience.  (I'm not sure why some times the protagonist is sometimes referred to as Casey Duncan and at others as Casey Butler.)

Rockton, small, secluded, and secret, lies deep in the Yukon, but officially, it doesn't exist at all.  To gain admittance to the tiny town of Rockton, requires an application.  Those who are accepted must be willing to live off-the-grid.  No cell phones.  No mail.  No internet.  Few conveniences.  

To take advantage of this refuge, citizens must abandon everything about their old lives and become acquainted with a much more difficult and primitive life style that comes with different kinds of dangers.

As if things in Rockton are not challenging and perilous enough, the council, without forewarning, drop a dangerous serial killer in the town.  Bound and gagged and accompanied by a letter with a detail of his crimes, Oliver Brady must be accommodated for six months.   Brady's arrival upsets the town and its dynamics, both those who know of his crimes and those who don't.  

Is Oliver Brady guilty of the crimes listed in the letter?  Trouble begins immediately and quickly gets worse.

Fast paced and full of action, this one will keep you turning the pages.  

Read in Oct.; blog review scheduled for Jan. 17, 2018.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Suspense.  Feb. 6, 2018.  Print length:  368 pages.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Woman in the Water by Charles Finch

I've read many of Charles Finch's Charles Lennox historical mysteries and enjoyed them.  The Woman in the Water is unusual because it details the first investigation by a  very young Lennox, who is determined to become a detective, treading cautiously between youthful hubris and social hierarchies, learning as he goes.

Sometimes young Lennox makes mistakes and looks foolish, but his occasional flashes of insight outstrip his missteps.  He is balancing so much at once: his eagerness and lack of experience; his social life and the derision of many of his peers; his love for Elizabeth with her newly married status; his frustrations with dealing with his housekeeper; his reluctance to take the salary of a Scotland Yard consultant; his father's illness; and his love and jealousy of his brother.

An anonymous letter claiming to have committed the "perfect murder" claims the interest of both Lennox and his friend and valet Graham.  The two spend time each day cutting articles out of the paper and comparing them for possible criminal investigations that might be stepping stones for an aspiring detective.  Then the body of the first victim, a young woman, her body enclosed in a trunk washes ashore.  There are few clues, but Lennox manages to become involved in the investigation (here, family connections help his cause).  The letter writer promises more perfect murders, and Charles races to prevent another murder.

In contrast to the more experienced detective in the later books, it is interesting to see how the young Charles Lennox begins to learn and practice his trade.  

Read in Dec.; blog review scheduled for Feb. 14, 2018.

St. Martin's Press/Minotaur

Historical Mystery.  February 20, 2018.  Print version:  304 pages.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic

In the last days of December, I reread Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic and then moved on to And Fire Came Down, the sequel to Viskic's award-winning Australian debut.

I had hoped that Caleb would be in a better place by the time of the second novel, but the traumatic events of the first novel continue to taint Caleb's life in the sequel.

A case of meningitis when Caleb was five left him with profound hearing loss.  In many ways, Caleb has overcome the disability--he wears hearing aids that help him identify some sounds but must depend on lip reading to interpret spoken language.  Impressive, but not always enough even when someone is facing him directly for him to catch everything.  If they mutter or turn away, important elements of conversation can be lost.  This would be frustrating and confusing in normal circumstances, but as Caleb is a PI with a tendency to get involved in dangerous cases, the problem can be treacherous.

Previously, he has depended on his partner to fill in conversational blanks, but in And Fire Came Down, Caleb doesn't have that advantage.  His emotional stability depended on his wife Kat, but they have been separated for nearly two years, and although he thought they were rebuilding their connections, Kat has been gone for four months at the beginning of this installment.  Caleb's pride has often kept him from admitting his deafness, making many situations worse than necessary.  He makes occasional concessions in admitting his lack of hearing--a little progress--but still struggles to keep from acknowledging his disability.

In Melbourne, a depressed Caleb is approached by a young woman who begs for his help; accosted by a man who terrifies her, the young woman attempts to flee and runs in front of a car.  Unable to understand her last words, Caleb determines to find out more.

Who sent her to Caleb?  A note on a receipt leads Caleb back to Resurrection Bay and into another case that will put his own life in danger and the lives of those he cares about.

What makes these books stand out is not simply that the protagonist is deaf, but the way characters deal with all of the complications of life. Personal hubris, marriage, family, community, racial prejudice and violence, social problems from vandalism to drugs--the issues that are pertinent today in any setting or culture become personal in the microcosm of Resurrection Bay.  

Read in Dec.; blog review scheduled for Jan. 14

NetGalley/Bonnier Publishing Australia/Pushkin Press U.S., UK

Crime/PI.  2017.  Print length:  336 pages.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor is an intense mystery, part coming of age, part revelation of events children couldn't comprehend or  piece together.

In 1986, Eddie and four friends used chalk drawings as a way of communicating.  Each friend was  different enough to attract incidents of  bullying, and the drawings gave them an almost magical sense of secrecy and protection.  One day, however, a chalk drawing leads the group to a gruesome discovery that taints their childhood and continues to affect them as adults.  Who was responsible for that particular drawing; who led them to discover the body?  Who is the Chalk Man?

Twenty years later, Eddie, the narrator, receives a letter containing a stick figure drawn in chalk.  The past is not always past, to paraphrase Faulkner.  The author moves back and forth in time, alternating between 1986 and 2016.  

Everyone has secrets and when chalk figures appear again in 2016, the group of childhood friends, whose remaining attachments are largely a result of the events of that dreadful summer, find themselves nervous and uncertain.  The reappearance of one of the old friends who wants to write a book about the events of that summer in 1896 sets in motion another calamity.

Intense and twisty, moving from past to present, The Chalk Man is imaginative and cleverly plotted.  An impressive debut that kept me glued to the pages.

Read in Aug.; review scheduled for Jan. 12, 2018.

NetGalley/Crown Publishing

Mystery/Psychological.  Jan. 9, 2018.  Print length:  280 pages. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

I Know My Name by C.J. Cooke and City of Endless Night by Preston & Child

I Know My Name by C.J. Cooke  is a suspenseful and unusual amnesia mystery.   A woman disappears from London.  A woman turns up on a Greek island with no memory of who she is or how she got there.  Are they the same woman?  

Four friends on an annual writing retreat rescue a woman who washed ashore, but difficulties arise almost immediately.  Contact with anyone off island becomes difficult; the group is stranded with limited supplies.  

Meanwhile, back in London, Lochlan is frantic about his missing wife who left their toddler and infant daughter alone.

I Know My Name is not the stereotypical amnesia thriller, but is a clever psychological mystery with several unexpected twists.  Not what I anticipated when I began reading, but all the better for it.

Read in November; blog review scheduled for Jan.

NetGalley/Grand Central Publishing

Psychological Suspense.  Jan. 16, 2018.  Print length:  384 pages.

City of Endless Night by Preston & Child allows Detective D'Agosta to take the lead while Special Agent Aloyius Pendergast assumes a smaller role than normal.  Well, Aloyius does have a lot on his mind.

I've been reading these books for such a long time and realize how difficult it must be to keep coming up with fresh ideas for the series.
While I always enjoy revisiting the familiar characters, I haven't found the last few books as much fun as the earlier books.  This may just be because this is #17, and Relic (the first in the series) was published in 1995.  Pendergast has undergone some changes in this long series, but maybe I just love the supernatural and mysterious aspects of the earliest novels.

Not that I will ever refuse to see what is happening in Pendergast's life!

Read in November.

NetGalley/Grand Central Publishing

Mystery/Thriller.  Jan. 16, 2018.  Print length:  368 pages.