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Saturday, December 29, 2018

Heading to 2019 and Four Reviews

Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas!   

Catching up on all the blogs I usually keep track of proved a bit too much after nearly a full week away from home while we were all gathered down at the camp.  I gave up trying because there is still stuff to do and finish up at the end of the year.  

After the hectic Christmas activities, everyone needs a little time to recover and reflect as one year ends and another is quickly coming around.  I'm considering taking another break from FB, and from constantly checking the news as a New Year's Resolution.  It wasn't too difficult down in the country because there was no WiFi, but now that I'm home, it is proving difficult.  

December reading:

Betty Church and the Suffolk Vampire  by M.R.C. Kasasian features Betty Church as one of the first women Detective Inspectors in 1939.  After losing part of her arm, Betty leaves the Metropolitan Police for her home village in Suffolk.  Expecting little activity in the sleepy backwater village, she becomes entangled with a number of strange murders.

I found the characters all a bit too eccentric for my taste.  Betty is the only one who has any common sense--all the others are caricatures.  Her constables are annoying in their idiocy, her boss has PTSD, her parents are clueless and irritating, and Dodo Chivers is exasperatingly tiresome.  

Had it been shorter and not trying so hard, I might have liked it better.   

NetGalley/Head of Zeus
Historical Mystery.  Feb. 7, 2019.  Print length:  432 pages!

Silent Suspect by Kerry Wilkinson is the 13th installment in Wilkinson's Jessica Daniel series.  Jessica's friend Bex has been missing for three months when she gets a phone call and the only word spoken is "Jessica" before the call ends.  But it is Bex's voice.  

The call is from a public phone booth in Blackpool, and as soon as Jessica traces the call, she is off to the seaside town in search of Bex.  Things get strange as soon as Jessica locates the phone booth and sees a poster of a missing young woman who is similar in appearance to Bex.

She calls the number on the poster and agrees to meet a man who says the missing girl is his sister.  On meeting the man, Jessica feels a little uncomfortable and no further in her attempt to locate her friend.  The next morning, she is awakened by police.  The man she met with has been found dead on the beach.

Now Jessica is not only still searching for Bex, but is a suspect in the man's death.

An interesting side story includes Jessica seeking help from Andrew Hunter, the PI in another series by Wilkinson.  Other than the help from Hunter, Jessica is cut off from her home base of Manchester and her friends on the force.  Her search for Bex has led her into complex criminal activity and an attempt to frame her for murder.

Another winner from Kerry Wilkinson.  :)

Detective fiction/Suspense.  Jan. 14, 2019.  Print length:  316 pages.

Victoria Jenkins is an Australian crime writer and this is the fourth in her series with Detectives Alex King and Chloe Lane.   I haven't read any of the previous books, but A Promise to the Dead functions as a stand-alone. 

A young couple run out of gas in an isolated area.  Matthew leaves his girlfriend in the car as he searches for help.  Unfortunately, he winds up seeing something he wasn't supposed to and the next morning he is missing and his girlfriend is dead.

Alex and Chloe have another case of a missing young man, and then the discovery of a body that proves to be that of a young man who went missing thirty years ago.  Are the three cases connected?  Two recent disappearances and the remains of a young man from decades past keep the team trying to unravel the puzzle.

Police Procedural.  Jan. 21, 2019.  
Code Name: Lise by Larry Loftis.  Odette Sansom Hallowes is also known as Odette Churchill and was recruited by the SOE in 1942.

My problem with this biography are the "conversations."  While some of these can be documented in general, using this as dialogue feels too much like fiction.  I prefer a third person account unless conversations can be documented verbatim with appropriate footnotes.

Odette Sansom was a French woman married to an Englishman and joined the SOE in 1942.

I did like the references to the SOE, Leo Marks, Colonel Buckmaster, and a few others because I was familiar with them from other books about the SOE.  It was  a bit disconcerting to get to the end and read the criticism of some historians in regard to Odette's service.  While I admire the author for including the controversy, it left me a little unsettled about the roles of Odette and Peter Churchill.  

An intriguing look at the lives of some of the agents in occupied France, Code Name: Lise 
examines the service of one of the most famous of the SOE agents and one who survived Ravensbruck concentration camp.

If you are interested in the SOE and the intelligence operations in Europe I can recommend Leo Marks' Between Silk and Cyanide.

  The purpose of the SOE was "to conduct espionagesabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe (and later, also in occupied Southeast Asia) against the Axis powers, and to aid local resistance movements."

 Leo Marks, a cryptographer, headed the code department " supporting resistance agents in occupied Europe for the secret Special Operations Executive organisation" while Maurice Buckmaster was the head of "F" section.  

Also another book about an SOE agent in France is Nancy Wake by Russel Braddon.

Read in October.

NetGalley/Gallery Books
History/WWII/Espionage.  Jan. 15, 2019.  Print length:  384 pages.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Burglar by Thomas Perry

The Burglar is my first book by Thomas Perry, and I chose it because when Verushka mentioned it on her blog, I thought it sounded like fun. 

Elle is young, small, and fit.  Being small is a good thing when you want to burgle a house and entry through a doggy door presents no problem.   Elle is a professional; she knows the skills of the trade from the burglary itself to the right fence for the goods.

However, when Elle burgles the home of an art dealer, she discovers a triple homicide and a camera still running on the scene.  What to do?  She takes the camera, edits out her own presence, and returns it for the police to find.  

Unfortunately, her attempt to aid the the police in finding out who committed the murders goes awry, and Elle finds herself a target.

Read in July; blog review scheduled for Dec. 26.

NetGalley/Grove Atlantic/Mysterious Press

Suspense.  Jan. 8, 2019.  Print length:  304 pages.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Collector by Fiona Cummins and Snakehead by Peter May

The Collector by Fiona Cummins continues the story of the "Bone Collector" introduced in a previous novel which I haven't read.  Brian Howley (the Night Man/Mr. Silver/the Collector) is a serial killer, and not just a serial killer, but one who collects physical anomalies. 

Ok.  Evil serial killer thinks he has found an apprentice and an heir who will help him recapture the six-year-old boy who got away and who will appreciate his murders and fetish-like collection of oddities.  

Young Saul Anguish (how's that for a name?) is an intriguing character, but it seems far-fetched to believe Howley could target a teenager and groom him as an apprentice in such a short time.
Saul has enough emotional and personal problems to make the corruption possible, but he does have a sense of right and wrong despite the complications in his life--and to pervert him completely in two or three days created a problem for me.  Brian Howley's father had years to make his son, a captive audience, into a serial killer, so expecting a teenager to be converted overnight is a bit much to ask.  

Strangely, the detective Etta Fizgerald, the protagonist of the first book, has a relatively small presence.  She's important, but she doesn't have that much time in the plot. The children, Jakey and Clara, are sympathetically rendered.  

The book had a lot of possibilities to be something more, but makes the bizarre and gruesome the main interest.  (I just looked at the reviews on Goodreads, and they are all very positive.  However, I'm not a fan of making grisly and macabre the basis of a plot.)

NetGalley/Kensington Books
Serial Killer.  Dec. 18, 2018.  Print length:  400 pages.

Snakehead by Peter May is the 4th book in his China series.  Having enjoyed The Lewis Trilogy set in Scotland on the Isle of Lewis, I was expecting to like this more than I actually did.  

Description:  The macabre discovery of a truck full of dead Chinese in southern Texas brings together again the American pathologist Margaret Campbell with Li Yan, the Beijing detective with whom she once shared a turbulent personal and professional relationship. Forced back into an uneasy partnership, they set out to identify the Snakehead who is behind the 100-million-dollar trade in illegal Chinese immigrants which led to the tragedy in Texas - only to discover that the victims were also unwitting carriers of a deadly cargo. Li and Margaret have a biological time-bomb of unimaginable proportions on their hands, and an indiscriminate killer who threatens the future of humankind. 

I found the main characters a bit difficult to care about, not that I disliked them, I just wasn't really taken with them.  The basic idea of the plot is a good one, but the way the virus was to be triggered was weird.  Human trafficking is despicable, and obviously there is much more of it than I was aware of for most of my life; however, the fact that Li arrives from China to find the case involves his sister who has been trafficked for the sex trade is quite the coincidence.   

Read in Oct.

Mystery/Thriller.  Jan. 8, 2019.   Print length:  416 pages.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Murder at the Mill by M.B. Shaw

Murder at the Mill came in the mail and proved a surprisingly intense mystery.  Based on the cover, I was expecting a cozy Christmas tale, but discovered an exceptionally well-plotted, character-driven, complicated, and complex whodunnit.  

 In the sense that the story takes place in a small community with an amateur detective, Murder at the Mill fits into the cozy slot.  There are no serial killers, violence is downplayed, there are plenty of clues which are neither misleading nor definitely pointing to a particular suspect.  The clues keep the field open, and the reader must ponder the significance and weigh the possibilities.  Murder at the Mill doesn't rely on violence or graphic descriptions, it is a true puzzle of personalities and past events.  

The intricate plotting is typical of Agatha Christie, but the character development is much more layered and complex.  The author creates multifaceted personalities for all of the important characters and keeps the reader uncertain not only about the who, but also about the why.

Iris Grey, a portrait artist, takes a cottage in a small village to escape the stress of her failing marriage.  Her landlords are Ariadne and Dominic Wetherby.  Dominic is a celebrated writer of crime novels who has a large personality and a national reputation.  Ariadne is a sculptor, but that is only a small part of her life as she is the quintessential wife and mother figure--in love with her husband and devoted to her children.  The middle son, Billy has only recently been released from prison and is an angry and difficult young man.

Commissioned to paint a portrait of the celebrated Dom Wetherby,  Iris uses her artist's eye to examine not only her sitter, but the entire family.  Her skills of observation are called into play when Dom's body is pulled from the river and what appeared to be suicide becomes a murder investigation.

An intelligent puzzle of a contemporary mystery that combines a Golden Age of Detective Fiction vintage feel with three-dimensional characters.  Murder at the Mill kept me so involved that I felt almost like a presence in the novel.

M.B. Shaw is the pen name of Tilly Bagshawe.  

I can't wait for more in this brand new series, not only because I took such pleasure in the slow unfolding of the plot, but because Iris' next commissioned portrait is in Scotland.

ARC from Minotaur Books

Mystery.  Dec. 4, 2018.  387 pages.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Wrecked by Joe Ide and The Last of the Stanfields by Marc Levy

 Although I still haven't read the first in this series, NetGalley offered Wrecked, which is the third, and after enjoying Righteous, I decided proceed.

The violent prologue almost made me abandon ship before really setting sail.  Prologues have become de rigeur in recent years, and I'm finding fewer and fewer that I appreciate.  

The plot is pretty much a given early on and not so much mystery as suspense.  The CEO of the bad guys didn't seem smart enough to have pulled off all of the situations and his crew (back from his Abu Ghraib days) dislike him and taunt him.  But perhaps, like in business and politics, sometimes the least capable make their way to being in charge.  The whole mess of villains feel like a dark comedy of sinister and corrupt screw-ups--capable of despicable acts and carnage, but little else.  Do these folks exist?  Without question, we've seen this over and over.

What I did enjoy was the secondary characters:  Dodson, Deronda, and T.K.  The sub-plots associated with these characters are the most enjoyable, but the romance element with IQ and Grace fell short for me.

I still want to read the first book, and I will give the next book a chance before deciding whether or not I want to continue the series.

NetGalley/Mulholland Books
PI/Suspense.  Oct. 9, 2018.  Print length:  352 pages.

The Last of the Stanfields by Marc Levy (translated by Daniel Wassermand) was my first book by Marc Levy, but I hope to read more.

From description:  A mystery, a love story, and a search through a shadowy past. Two strangers unite in this novel of family secrets by international bestselling author Marc Levy, the most read contemporary French author in the world. 

Why did I choose to read this one?  I couldn't resist the names of the protagonists (Eleanor-Rigby Donovan and George-Harrison Collins); anonymous letters sent to the main characters (I love anonymous letters that send characters into researching the past); a plot with three time periods that aren't confusing; and the family relationships (especially with the Donovans).

Although there are some dark moments, the overall narrative is ultimately upbeat.   Strange and somehow comforting, the investigation into the past reveals all of the shortcomings and flaws in human nature in ways that are understandable.  

Kindle First Reads
Mystery/Family drama.  Jan. 1, 2019.  Print length:  384 pages.

I've been scheduling reviews for some of the books that aren't due out for several months.
Here are some of my favorites.

The Plotters by Un-Su Kim
The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths
Who Slays the Wicked (Sebastian St. Cyr) by C.S. Harris
Turning Secrets by Brenda Chapman

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

The Boy by Tami Hoag and Broken Ground by Val McDermid

Tami Hoag's The Boy is the second in a series featuring Nick Fourcade and Annie Broussard.  I haven't read the first in the series, but it wasn't necessary as the book works as a standalone. 

A murdered child, a severely injured and grieving mother, a missing twelve-year-old.  Complicating the investigation(s) is a dubious crime scene team and a sheriff whose image is more important than anything else.

Fourcade and Broussard try to resolve the conflicting elements in the murder, but complications continue to pop up.  Kelvin Dutrow, the new sheriff, overrides Fourcade's attempt at a crime scene perimeter, exacerbating a personality conflict that already was detrimental to the sheriff's department and only gets worse and more personal.

At the heart of the case, when all is said and done, is the damage, psychological and physical, that results in a ripple effect from a destructive and controlling personality.  Hoag cleverly weaves the strands together to what initially would seem a surprising outcome.

Nick Fourcade doesn't really resonate with me, but the byways the novel takes concerning cheating, spousal abuse, and bullying provide food for thought, and the plot is intricate and well written.

I really want another Sam Kovacs and Nikki Liska novel, which is my favorite Hoag series.  

NetGalley/Penguin Group

Mystery/Crime.  Dec. 31, 2018.  Print length:  496 pages.  

Broken Ground by Val McDermid returns to cold case detective Karen Pirie.   It is hard to pick a favorite among McDermid's series, but I do like Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie, Jason, and the Historic Cases Unit.  

Karen Pirie is sarcastic and often brash, and her dislike for her boss creates a problematic atmosphere--especially when her boss assigns a snitch to her unit.

When a young woman searching for the WWII motorcycles her grandfather buried in a peat bog after the war discovers the body of a man who has been missing for years, Karen's investigation into the cold case of a rape victim is interrupted.  In addition to these two cases, Karen overhears a conversation in which a woman tells her friend that she intends to confront her abusive husband.  Stepping in to warn the woman that she might be putting herself in danger, Karen hopes she has kept the woman safe.  Uh oh.  Best laid plans and all that.

McDermid never disappoints.  Her characters feel genuine and her knowledge of forensics goes a long way to giving her plots a sense of realism.

Read in August.

NetGalley/Grove Atlantic

British Detectives/Cold Cases.  Dec. 4, 2018.  Print length:  432 pages.  

The garden has been put to bed, the Christmas crafting has begun.  Last year, I was all about making snow folks and a Christmas cat, this year mice are in progress.

Two were gifts for our daughters last Christmas,
one was for me.

The cat was for granddaughter Bryce Eleanor,
the latest incarnation of the "cat lady." 

I intended to get started on Christmas crafting early.  Of course, I say that every year, but don't feel like making for a holiday until close to the actual month.