What we've been reading lately

Welcome to the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association redesigned Killer Books page. Below, you will find selections from members' blogs and webpages that post mystery reviews. If you've read the book discussed, or would like to, we welcome your comments.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Affair, by Lee Child

Reviewed by JB for Seattle Mystery Bookshop, www.SeattleMystery.com
$28.00
ISBN-13: 9780385344326
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Delacorte Press, 9/2011
After a couple of books with what I thought had major problems, Lee Child is back in form for The Affair (signed copies available). Perhaps it is due to this being a prequel, that is, in a way, a smaller story, a narrower focus, more of a whodunnit. Hard to say.
But this story takes us back to Reacher's final case as a military investigator, back in the Spring of '97. There's been a murder outside a 'secret' military base and he's sent to get into this small Mississippi town to look for information – a back-up investigator to the one sent into the base itself. From the start, things don't add up and Reacher forms an alliance with the police chief, herself a former Marine, to search for answers.
As with the best of the Reacher books, about every other chapter there's a major plot twist. I would continually think I knew what was coming but I was invariably wrong. It was wonderful, the best kind of entertainment. Is the murder related to someone on the base or a local? Reacher is warned going in that there are heavy politics involved so he needs to tread lightly but get answers. Can't really give you more – that'd ruin the chain of surprises.
Delightful too were the links he laid in that point to the actual first book in the series, Killing Floor to the small town in Georgia mentioned by his brother Joe in a postcard. Haven't read that since it came out 14 years ago (actually, I probably read an advanced copy a few months before it was published, so it's been more like 15 years!) and I should sit down and re-read it.

Anyway – Lee Child's The Affair – read it, read it now. It's alottafun!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Red Mist

from Kingdom Books, http://kingdombks.blogspot.com/

RED MIST, a Kay Scarpetta Forensics Novel, by Patricia Cornwell

This is the nineteenth in the forensics detection novels that feature Dr. Kay Scarpetta, and it brings her back to the South, where readers first met her -- this time, visiting the Georgia Prison for Women. It's a strange thing for Kay to do. She's been invited to meet a prisoner there, the psychologically bizarre mother of Dawn Kincaid, who attacked Kay during a criminal investigation near Boston. The attack took place in the home that Kay and her husband, FBI agent Benton Wesley, share. And in a powerful sweep of plot, author Patricia Cornwell takes Kay Scarpetta back into the horrors of the attack and the triggers that led to it: factors that include a complete breakdown of Jack Fielding, the forensic examiner's second-in-command for so many years that their relationship has embraced two entire careers, one after another.

But all that is mere detail in what Cornwell provides with the disturbing opening of RED MIST: an ominous, frightening, horror-haunted entry into a "heart of darkness" of Kay's own, throbbing with Southern heat, jungle-like plant growth, and layers of threat from people who think they know her -- and believe an entirely different version of the attack sequence, one that makes Scarpetta herself into a cruel, malicious stereotype of a power-drunk woman.

It's hard to say that one Scarpetta book evokes more horror than another; each one finds a different way to do so. But this one, in which the unhealed psyche that the forensic examiner carried inside her falls victim to hints and allegations, gets creepy very quickly. And as a reader, what horrified me the most was the steady patter of pieces of verbal evidence falling on and around Kay, without her paying attention to them. Narrated by Kay herself in the first-person present, the novel shakes with Kay's uncertainty, collapsing ego, and lack of attention to the dark forces and twisted people around her.

For example, in the visit to the Georgia Prison for Women, the warden herself begins almost immediately to threaten Scarpetta, using as grounds for her verbal attacks a version of Kay that's distorted like a carnival mirror's effect. Curious comments from the warden insist that Kay's visit come after previous kindnesses to the prisoner -- someone Kay's never responded to in any way. And somehow, word of the prisoner's sexual advances to Kay's colleague is open news at this prison, even though it's never been made public. The warden hints that there are already threats to Kay as well, saying, "Seems like you might not be inclined to seek out anything unsafe after what you've been through." The implication is clear: Even this warden, Tara Grimm, is unsafe for Kay.

And soon the imprisoned woman, Kathleen Lawler, is scaring Kay as well, although it's hard to know how she could follow through on her delusions. Again echoing the tropical disorientation of "Heart of Darkness," or of George Smiley in a prison in India, questioning the man who would become his arch-enemy Karla, Scarpetta observes the incongruities around her, yet fails to seize on them and question them. Perhaps the most frightening moment in this lengthy prelude to the book's eventual action comes when the prisoner unthinkingly uses the term "them" in reference to what was, as far as Kay Scarpetta knows, one baby born while Lawler was in prison. Kay repeats the phrase, questioning it, but the moment floods past in a rush of other narration from the prisoner, and it appears Kay has missed a critical clue -- for many pages, and many attacks and deaths, yet to follow in the book.

Readers of the series will shudder with Kay at threats to her marriage to Benton Wesley; at implications that Pete Marino may have betrayed her; at an intrusion into Kay's life from a forceful woman whose connection to Scarpetta is through her beloved niece Lucy.

Right before reading RED MIST, I re-read book four in the series, Cruel and Unusual, which uses a very different narrative structure and a much less intense set of metaphors and moods. But it reminded me of why I've bought and read every Scarpetta novel at some point, in recognition of the force and emotional connection with which Cornwell endows her characters. In some ways it made it hard for me to give way to the author's insistent path in this newest book. And in others, it convinced me that no matter how uncomfortable I became, I had to push on, to discover what Patricia Cornwell had created this time.

Worth every moment, I think, and as the book settles in me, I feel even more strongly about it. An extra plus of this publication is that Cornwell is front-and-center lately in a more public persona than she's shown in years. It's been good to see her and listen to her on TV and radio this month. And for an intriguing interview online, check this one with Janice Kaplan at The Daily Beast.

This book stays on my "re-read these" shelf. It's a keeper.
 
~ Beth Kannell

Edited for Death

Edited for Death
Michele Drier
Mainly Murder Press, October 2011
ISBN 978-0-9836823-1-8
Trade Paperback

The recent death of a US Senator, also a World War II hero, leads Amy Hobbes, manager of a small-town newspaper, to send her reporter, Clarice, to the Senator's nearby hometown on assignment. Marshalltown, in Northern California, is a survivor of the Gold Rush days and Amy believes the Senator's story could lead to a book, possibly her ticket out of the dying newspaper business.

Juxtaposed with Clarice's research is the story of an American G. I. in Heidelberg, Germany, in the waning days of World War II, a story that mixes fear with heroics and a moment's decision that will have repercussions many years later.

Clarice's research in Marshalltown brings out some interesting background about the town and the Senator's family, centered in the old hotel now owned by Senator Calvert's grandson, but nothing seems to be especially exciting. Then, a death occurs in the hotel, a death that may be due to murder. The possibility of murder, of course, send Amy's and Clarice's investigative instincts into overdrive.

The author's debut novel is nicely done with only the occasional misstep, mainly having to do with why the characters would do certain things. These plotting errors didn't interfere with my enjoyment of the story and connecting World War II to the present-day mystery adds a depth that lifts the book above many debuts. The only thing I didn't like has to do with a personal preference—I really don't care for first person present tense—but I'll look forward to reading more by Ms. Drier.

from Leila Taylor, http://www.cncbooks.com/blog/

 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bumsted Books of the Year

from Whodunit? http://www.whodunitcanada.com/home

Jack's Picks

In the past, one book has for me usually distanced itself from the pack as the "book of the year," but this time around I am unable to single out one title. Instead three books jostle in my mind as outstanding. One is Ian Rankin's latest, The Impossible Dead. As we all know, Rankin retired John Rebus a few years back. Rebus was ready for retirement. He was drinking too much and had become far too cynical. In his place has come Malcolm Ross, a policeman in a unit that investigates the wrongdoing of other cops, commonly known as "The Complaints." Ross drinks Appletizer and has less angst than Rebus, but his cases are as complex and political as his predecessor's.

As a historian, I really appreciate the series by C. J. Sansom based in Henrician England. I am hard-pressed to think of another that better combines historical detail, sharp plotting, and a likeable detective. Heartstone, the fifth in the series, maintains Sansom's high standards. To the historically-accurate plot of England preparing for naval war against France in 1545, Sansom adds a number of subplots, including one involving Shardlake and his relationship with a woman erroneously housed in Bedlam. If I have a problem with this book, it is in the large number of overlapping subplots, which require several chapters to resolve at the end.

There will never be another Stieg Larsson, and it is time that we stopped looking for one. The Millenium Trilogy was a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. There are other good Nordic writers, however. This year I was particularly impressed with Jussi Adler-Olsen's The Keeper of Lost Causes. As is usually the case, Adler-Olson has been publishing for some years, and this book, while the first in English translation, is hardly his maiden effort. Adler-Olsen is Danish, and so the setting is a bit unusual. So too are the premises of the book. A Copenhagen cop who has been involved in a violent incident in which colleagues were killed (and in which he failed to draw his gun) is so damaged by guilt that he becomes a pariah within his unit. He eventually is exiled to a newly-created Department Q, located in the basement of the police building, which is charged with investigating cold cases. He is Department Q's only member, although he soon acquires an assistant, an Arab named Assad, who is officially employed as a cleaner. Assad, it transpires, is not only a brilliant detective but an experienced one, having worked for some years for some Middle Eastern secret service agency. The two men work together to solve the long-ago disappearance of a member of parliament. Good stuff!

Wendy's Picks

My book of the year for 2011 is C.C. Benison's, Twelve Drummers Drumming. This is the start of a new series for the author of the 'Her Majesty Investigates series'. The main character, Rev. Tom Christmas, aka. Father Christmas, is the new rector of Thornford Regis, a small English town. However, although the town seems idyllic and a far cry from the inner city where Tom Christmas had previously worked, all, as we might guess, is not as it seems. It is the classic English mystery with a modern setting. Miss Marple might be surprised at the way the townscape and public behaviour have changed but she would not be surprised at the secrets and the evil that lurks within.

2011 has been a good year for me as a number of my favorite authors have had new titles. I have been a big fan of Cynthia Harrod-Eagles 'Bill Slider' series since it started in 1991, and have always been sad that she neglected this series because of the demands of her historical series, The Morland Dynasty, now up to #34. However, by some fluke this year there have been two Slider novels published. In March, Body Line was published and since August has been available in trade paper. In November, we received Kill My Darling, the 14th in the series and only available so far in hard cover.

The tenth in Barry Maitland's Brock and Kolla series, The Dark Mirror, finally arrived in trade paper in September, followed in October by Chelsea Mansions, only available in hard cover. This series is set largely in London and its environs and gives a very contemporary view of the city and British society. The seemingly random murder of an American tourist visiting the famed Chelsea Flower Show is the starting point for Chelsea Mansions. The second death of a Russian oligarch leads David Brock and his team to travel long distances in both time and space, to the United States and into the long forgotten past.

I used to be a big fan of Val McDermid but recently I had been finding her a little too dark for my taste. However, I really enjoyed her most recent title A Trick of the Dark, a standalone set around an Oxford college. Charlie Flint, is a clinical psychologist, whose career is somewhat under a cloud, is asked by one of her undergraduate advisors to look into a murder.



Two Christmas Mysteries

 
What Mary Alice is reading:
Christmas Mourning ($7.99) by Margaret Maron There is something special about a Christmas mystery and by the hand of Margaret Maron it is a real gift. Christmas Mourning, 16th in the Deborah Knott series, brings Judge Deborah Knott and her sprawling Southern family together again, but the death of a young cheerleader in a car crash dims the lights. It was no accident and the answers can only be found after the teens and Aunt Deborah get together before the holiday and anniversary of the talented sleuth. Not to be missed…I would see that this is under the tree for your favorite reader.

Also available as an eBook

What Richard is reading:
Twelve Drummers Drumming ($24) by C.C. Benison I don't think we could have dreamed up a more perfect Christmas mystery than Twelve Drummers Drumming by C.C. Benison (remember her from the Jane Bee mysteries?). We've got the village of Thornford Regis, we've got a vicar and sleuth named Father Christmas who's a single parent with a nine year old daughter and we've got a murder victim—the daughter of the choir director. Just a perfect treat for the season. Let's hope they do one of these every Christmas.

Also available as an eBook

 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Aunt Agatha's Year's best

from auntagatha.com
 

Top Ten List 2011

Every year, one of my favorite tasks is assembling my Top 10 List, which usually (actually always) involves winnowing and eliminating - at the end of the list, there are even more titles I really enjoyed. This year I'm moving two perennials to the "Emeritus" category - Louise Penny and William Kent Krueger - they are almost always on the list so, while including the wonderful book each of them wrote this year, I've left room for 10 other titles as well. Happy reading!

Now You See Me, S.J. Bolton, Minotaur, $25.99.

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"We lie to dying people, I realized that evening, just as the first sirens sounded in the distance."

Bolton goes from strength to strength, delivering an original read every time. While her first three books were set in remote British locations, this one takes place in London, and is a straight up police procedural - or is it? As the cops working what quickly become obvious are copies of Jack the Ripper's killings, it's also obvious that the killer is fixated on one of the policewomen, who the rest of the squad keeps under close watch. What isn't clear is - is she being watched because they think she's connected to the killer, or because they're worried about her? Or both? Bolton keeps you guessing, and this is a wonderfully twisty thriller with her trademark wonderful use of setting. What also sets this book apart is her look at the crimes, and at the work of the policewomen involved, through a gender lens. It's not a polemic, but it gives the reader a female-centric view of crime, not only the murder cases, but also some rape cases in a correlated thread. You could also just read this book because it's a terrific thriller. Either way, this is not an author to be missed.

Killed at the Whim of a Hat, Colin Cotterill, Minotaur, $24.99.

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"A number of lands around the globe have what they refer to as a southern temperament. Thailand is no exception. Old Mel could surely have gone running off screaming for help...But he was a southerner. He broke off a stem of sweet grass to chew while he sat on the concrete segment and gazed into the abyss."

Colin Cotterill has transplanted the charm and humor of his Dr. Siri series to his now native Thailand, and created an entirely new family of eccentrics for readers to love. His gentle and ironic touch is unchanged, though his new central character, Jimm Juree, is a young woman instead of a 70-something man like Dr. Siri. Jimm lives with her family in crowded Chang Mai, and as the story opens she discovers her mother has sold the family business and bought a resort in the middle of nowhere. The photos of the Gulf Bay Lovely Resort and Restaurant made it look beautiful; the reality is slightly different. A former crime beat reporter, Jimm is bored by the tiny fishing village where the resort is located. However, she is delighted when two skeletons are discovered buried in a VW bus, and as she explores the mystery, she also begins to love her new town. She shares the stage with her eccentric and strong willed mother, her grandfather, who rarely speaks, and her brother, Arny, a sensitive 31 year old virgin and bodybuilder. The story is clever and surprisingly complicated, tied together with chapter epigraphs taken directly from the lips of George W. Bush, whose malapropisms are somehow wildly appropriate to Jimm's new life in the provinces. The gentle interplay of the family â€" the grandfather who starts to speak; the mother who appears to be getting forgetful and is sneaking around in some kind of Ninja costume, and the changing love fortunes of the shy and awkward Arny - are the true heart of the book. This is one of the reads of the year.

Murder Season, Robert Ellis, Minotaur, $25.99.

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"She could smell it in the pillow as she pulled it closer. On the sheets as she rolled over in the darkness and searched out cool spots that were not there. Murder Season. She was floating, drifting. Cruising through an open seam between sleep and consciousness."

If there is a writer to resemble, it might be a good idea to resemble Michael Connelly. It is no disrespect to say that Robert Ellis' tightly plotted police procedurals set in LA and featuring homicide detective Lena Gamble resemble Connelly's Harrry Bosch novels. However, the gender change up makes the whole enterprise fresh. Ellis happily also shares Connelly's sharp plotting and ability to give the reader a twist that has been fairly laid out for the reader, yet is still a surprise. I think police novels are the modern equivalent of the private eye novel â€" the police in contemporary mysteries often think and operate somewhat outside the box, much like an old school private eye â€" so using the old P.I. tropes are a natural fit. Ellis embellishes the tropes and makes them his own, and one of the ways he does this is with evocative prose. In this tricky story involving a notorious Hollywood murder case, Lena has much territory to navigate, with the help/hindrance of an old cop on the way down. In true noir fashion, she's never sure who to trust, but the reader can easily trust Lena, whose smarts never lead her in the wrong direction. Beautifully written and plotted, it would truly be a shame to miss this wonderful novel.

The Janus Stone, Elly Griffiths, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25.00.

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"Love is always a force for good...Your love for your wife and daughters, for this woman and her unborn baby. Even your wife's kindness toward her. These are all good things...love is always a blessing."

So many people I respected told me to check out Elly Griffiths I finally did, and boy, am I hooked on Ruth Galloway. She's fabulous. Unapologetically overweight, with no interest in clothes, Ruth instead focuses on her fascinating job as an archaeologist. Set on the coast of England, Ruth lives in a remote location, and she's a convenient expert whenever bones are discovered - in this novel, some are Roman, some are more recent. When I read the first book, The Crossing Places, I liked it so much that I ordered 25 copies right away and proceeded to hand sell them. I can safely say every reader I've introduced to Ruth is looking forward to the January publication of The House by the Sea. These books, aside from featuring a great character - in fact many great characters - also have a good, complex story and a lovely setting and background. I think I'm a life time fan.

Buffalo West Wing, Julie Hyzy, Berkley Prime Crime, $7.99 (paperback original).

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"Two hours later, I had rehashed every moment of the kids' disastrous first visit to the kitchen a hundred times. No matter how you cut the cheesecake, there was no way I could have served those wings."

I always like to include a book on this list that's simply the most fun I had "between the covers" all year. For me, it was this book, the 4th in Hyzy's wildly entertaining series set in the White House Kitchen. In this one, executive Chef Olivia Paras gets a new boss in the form of a new first family, and the new first lady is skeptical, as are her children. Olivia tries her hardest to please her new bosses, big and small, but an incident early on sours things, and it takes a kidnaping toward the end of the book to get the first family on Olivia's side. I found this entry as funny and fast paced as the others but also surprisingly moving. Hyzy really seems to have hit her storytelling stride.

Season of Darkness, Maureen Jennings, McClelland & Stewart, $22.95.

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"Dawn was starting to seep through the trees and the exercise was getting the blood flowing. She kicked her feet off the pedals and did a little swoop from side to side just for fun. Whoopee! There was something to be said about this war. She'd never have this experience stuck in the filthy London back-to-back housing where she'd grown up."

Maureen Jennings hits the ball out of the park with this first book in a planned trilogy set during WWII England, and helmed by local policeman Tom Tyler. This tiny Shropshire town is populated not only by an interment camp for Germans - mainly intellectuals, one of them a student of Freud - but it's also full of Land Girls, the young women who helped to bring the crops in all over Britain during the war. When a body of a Land Girl is found with a mysterious bunch of white poppies, it takes all of Tom Tyler's instincts and some help from the Freudian to help unravel what becomes a series of killings. The killing are tied in a complex way to the town, with emotional repercussions for many of its citizens. A master at complex plotting, wonderful characters, and a vibrant setting, it's wonderful to see the talented Jennings at work on a new series.

Northwest Angle, William Kent Krueger, Atria, $24.99.

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"He woke long before it was necessary, had wakened in this way for weeks, troubled and afraid. A dull illumination came through the houseboat window into the cabin he shared with his son. Not light exactly. More the promise of light. False dawn..."

Krueger uses one of his trademarks - a high drama weather event, tied to an emotional one - to great effect here. As Cork O'Connor's family is enjoying a vacation in a secluded area called the Northwest Angle, a storm comes up and Cork and his daughter Jenny are separated from the rest of the group, and for a time, from each other. While alone, Jenny finds both a dead body and a baby, and the first half of the novel is a bravura chase sequence, with Cork and Jenny's main goal keeping the foundling safe. Skillfully balancing a complex story, some deep emotional threads, and a beautiful rendering of the north woods and waters, Krueger's book is also simply a wonderful, well written thriller. It's another great read from one of our top notch contemporary crime writers.

The Girl in the Green Raincoat, Laura Lippman, William Morrow, $11.99.

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"Overdo a slow waddle to the bathroom! This made no sense to Tess. Raucous fun could be overdone. Drinking could be overdone. High-fat food could be overdone, even exercise. But a ten-foot walk to the bathroom?"

This slender paperback, culled from a serial that appeared first in the New York Times, is such a perfect book in its own way that I had to include it. In this book Tess is pregnant and on forced bed rest (something she's not taking well), and with a bravura nod to Hitchcock's Rear Window, the bedridden Tess uncovers a mystery as she watches the action unfold outside her front window. At the same time it allows Lippman to have almost every important-to-Tess character come through the door, and she gives them each their own chapter, so as a reader you learn more about series stalwarts like Mrs. Blossom, Whitney, Lloyd, her Dad, and Crow. While Lippman works with very familiar tropes, she makes them fresh, sometimes through originality of character, sometimes through humor, and always with a snap of her crisp plotting skills. Moving, fast paced, and clever, this is a purely delightful read, and if you are a Tess Monaghan fan, one not to be missed.

A Trick of the Light, Louise Penny, Minotaur, $25.99.

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"Was this how dreadful things started? Peter wondered. Not with a thunder clap. Not with a shriek. Not with sirens, but with a smile? Something horrible come calling, wrapped in civility and good manners."

Penny's latest novel is a long awaited look at the marriage and careers of series characters Peter and Clara, both artists. As the book opens, most of Three Pines is headed to Clara's gallery opening in Montreal. When one of Clara's old frenemies (and former art critic) Lillian Dyson turned up dead in Clara's garden the day after the art opening, all hell breaks loose. While Penny hews to almost golden age conventions in some ways (her story set ups) her emotional truths and revelations are far more contemporary, and this novel is a mediation on jealousy and it's destructiveness in any kind of relationship. The mystery part is as skillful as ever, but here is also the trademark beautiful prose and memorable characterizations Penny's readers have come to expect, as well as her ultimately optimistic viewpoint. Long may she write.

Children of the Street, Kwei Quartey, Random House, $15.00.

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"Every time he came home, Dawson felt a surge of thankfulness, like the swell of a wave. The little house was a sanctuary, armor against the wickedness of the crime he dealt with every day. A bit of a fortress too. His police sense had led him to burglarproof the house to the extreme."

I hear Kwei's series hasn't been picked up, and that's a real shame because both his novels, set in Ghana and featuring Detective Darko, are knockouts. This book moves him to the head of the class as Darko is in his home city of Accra, dealing with the deaths of the some of the incredible number of street children there. While giving the reader a heartbreaking picture of the city, he also gives a balanced one, as Darko's own family life, while not uncomplicated, is far from bleak, and he loves his wife and son. Darko is one of my favorite new mystery characters, as he's not uncomplicated himself - he has anger issues, a little problem with pot, a bit of a wandering eye, and he can "hear" a lie in someone's voice - and at the same time he's a very smart and capable policeman. The novel moves at a fast pace with lots of clues scattered throughout, as Quartey is also a devotee of the classic mystery. I'm truly hoping Detective Darko and his creator find a new publishing home, as I was looking forward to many more outings.

The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes, Marcus Sakey, Dutton, $25.95.

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"A blurry week ago he had woken on one coast. It had been cold and gray and lonely, beautiful in a desolate sort of way. It had nearly killed him, and maybe he had wanted it to."

This book, like all of Sakey's novels, was impossible to put down, and like the best of them, it also carries some emotional heft. Daniel Hayes wakes up on one side of the country with no memory (or clothes) - but finds a convenient BMW nearby, with clothes that fit - and he drives the car back to Los Angeles, which feels like home to him. As his memory comes back to him in bits and pieces he starts to remember that he was married to a fairly well known television star, she's dead, and he's the main suspect. As Sakey teases out Daniel's memories, as a reader, you're working as hard as Daniel, since what you're working with is no different from what Daniel is working with. Daniel is a writer, and Sakey uses that skill to help him figure out what's going on. The thoughtfulness that Sakey brings to his explication of memory, desire, love and loyalty as a part of Daniel's quest adds to the book's depth. Sakey is also a gifted prose stylist. He makes his prose simple but it's crisp and memorable, with never a misplaced word. A Sakey novel is always something worth celebrating, especially when it's as good as this one.

One Was a Soldier, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Minotaur, $24.99

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"Are you kidding?" She looked around with lively interest. "I've never been in the Dew Drop Inn before." "For a very good reason. This piss-hole is no place for a- a - " "Officer? Lady? Priest?" "A nice Episcopalian."

I think I can safely say there was no more anticipated return to the mystery reading community than that of Clare Fergusson and her creator, Julia Spencer-Fleming. Happily, this book is not a disappointment, but a great, sprawling, complex read, one that finds Clare back from Iraq, planning her wedding to Russ. Her return is complicated by her struggles with addiction. Her membership in a returning vets support group illuminates different folks in town as Spencer-Fleming skillfully weaves her story to include a wide swath of Miller's Kill, New York. The emotional wallop of this novel is huge, as Spencer-Fleming spares heartbreak neither in her stories of the veterans, nor in her depiction of Clare's struggle. When there's a murder in town, with ties to the vet's group, Clare of course gets involved, more or less shutting Russ out, in classic addict behavior. Things are coming right by the end of the novel, but not before a lot of emotional struggle and heartbreak. The narrative is complex and tricky, as Spencer-Fleming continues to proves that she's also a devotee of the traditional mystery structure. I'm already looking forward to Clare's next appearance.

Also recommended:

Wicked Autumn (Minotaur), G.M. Malliett's sly take on the village cozy; Dogs Don't Lie (Poisoned Pen), Clea Simon's original story about a woman who "hears" what animals are thinking; Motor City Shakedown (Minotaur), D.E. Johnson's sophomore effort set in 1911 Detroit; Winged Obsession (William Morrow), Jessica Speart's compulsive read about the world of butterfly collecting; and Killing Kate (Atria), Julie Kramer's latest and scariest Riley Spartz outing.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Killer Book

Barbara Tom of Murder by the Book, Portland, Oregon, selects:

Breaking Point, by Dana Haynes (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 9780312599881)

Dana Haynes' first book, Crashers -- the nickname used for the National
Transportation Safety Board's team of investigators of airplane crashes --
brought a quirky but brilliant group of individuals together for an
investigation in Portland. We met pathologist Tommy Tomzak, sharp-eared Kiki
Duvall, and pilot Isaiah Grey, the core of that crash team. This time
around, they are passengers in the plane that crashes in a forest in
Montana. Turnabout is not fair play.

Haynes informs us that it is not unusual for real-life crash teams to have
different configurations each time. Members are drawn from experts all over
the country, depending on who is closest and available, and Haynes'
fictional team is no exception. New faces with new talents pop up to help.
However, Peter Kim, the pain-in-the-heinie from Crashers, is the
Investigator in Charge this time. Gulp.

Further hindering the dream team is the fact that tiny-but-tough Susan
Tanaka is on a rare vacation, so she isn't in charge of enabling the
investigation either on-site or in D.C. By-the-book Peter as the IIC is
missing the elusive creative factor needed to solve the mystery of the
crash. It's a good thing the NTSB survivors -- ostracized by Kim -- form an
unauthorized shadow team.

FBI agent Ray Calabrese and mysterious ex-Israeli agent Daria Gibron are
also back and join our heroes.

A silver-haired mercenary, nicknamed Calendar, caused the crash. One can
only think that his benign-sounding name represents the clock ticking and
time running out. Will the forest fire started by the plane crash destroy
all the evidence? Why was Calendar hired to destroy the plane? Will the
primary go-team stumble on the truth? Will the shadow go-team find Calendar
before he kills them? Are Calendar's days numbered?

The combination of main team, shadow team, double-crossers, and
double-double-crossers puts a lot of players up front, but Haynes does an
outstanding job sorting them out.

This is a page-turner that will put a blister on your finger.

Friday, December 2, 2011

from Murder by the Book, Portland - mbtb.com

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Slash and Burn, by Colin Cotterill (hardcover, $25)(due 12/6/11)
Colin Cotterill's books starring Dr. Siri Paiboun have been among our most recommended at the store. Dr. Siri is a coroner in 1970s Communist Laos. Actually, Dr. Siri is Laos' ONLY coroner. He gets into plenty of political and criminal hot water because of his irreverent attitude and acute observations, some of which are not of this world. It sometimes helps and sometimes hurts that he can see ghosts. One particular soul who haunts Siri is an ancient Hmong shaman. The books have humor and warmth, they speak about a time and locale that are beyond the personal knowledge of most of Cotterill's readers, and they also incorporate serious political and cultural issues that affected Southeast Asia at the time.
So it was with great sadness that I read the announcement that this would be the last Dr. Siri book.

Slash and Burn is not as brilliant as Love Songs from a Shallow Grave, its immediate predecessor, but it constitutes a fond enough farewell to Siri.

A MIA U.S. helicopter pilot who worked for Air America (now widely accepted as a CiA/drug-running outfit) is the subject of a search by a joint U.S./Lao group. Ten years after his helicopter crashed, there is evidence that he might still be alive. Dr. Siri is roped into being a member of the team. He, in turn, ropes his wife, morgue colleagues, and best friend into accompanying him. The flamboyant, psychic, and cross-dressing Auntie Bpoo sneaks aboard. She claims she's there to prevent Siri's death, which she has foreseen on her psychic channel.

After a helicopter trip into the remote area where the investigation will begin, after truck rides in which no rut or pothole is left unfelt, after figuring out how the U.S. and Laotian sides will communicate, and especially after a murder occurs, Siri and his gang realize this will be a real busman's holiday.

Goodbye to the intuitive and wise Dr. Siri. Goodbye to his gun-toting, ex-rebel, noodle-making wife Daeng. Goodbye to competent Nurse Dtui and her macho police officer husband Phosy. Goodbye to sweet, mentally challenged morgue attendent Geung. Goodbye to sarcastic former politico Civilai. Goodbye to Ugly, the dog Siri discovers and adopts in this book; we hardly knew ye. Goodbye, even, to weasley Judge Haeng, Siri's incompetent nemesis. But it's not goodbye to Colin Cotterill.

Recently released Killed at the Whim of a Hat was Cotterill's first non-Siri book. It, too, is a winner and has the same lovely blend of humor and seriousness. Nevertheless, we can all have a group hug and together shuffle over to the Kleenex box.*

* A pop culture reference to the last scene in the last episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," still one of the funniest sad scenes ever.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Murder in the 11th House, by Mitchell Scott Lewis ($14.95)

There are many interesting things about this book, including an unusual astrologer/detective and his crusading lawyer daughter. However, there's also a disconcerting mixture of mostly polite talk with a lot of incongruous heavy-duty swearing. David Lowell, the astrologer, is a beer connoisseur à la Nero Wolfe, prickly personality, gentleman, and aikido black belt. His daughter's client is quick-tempered Joanna "Johnny" Colbert, a foul-mouthed bartender accused of murdering a judge.

Reasons to keep reading: Johnny has a gambling problem, so there's an interesting and sobering aside on the mechanics of gambling addiction. I quite enjoyed the fact that Lowell is wealthy, and he made his money in the stock market by using astrology. There are spots of humor, especially with Lowell's secretary, and they were good touches.

Things that make you close your eyes: Johnny develops a crush on the much older and more sophisticated Lowell, and there's an awkward moment or two as his daughter, Melinda, seems to sanction it. Although the book is written in the third person, the only character who is fleshed out is Lowell. It's classic amateur sleuthing meets political thriller meets My Fair Lady, and the mishmash is dizzying.

There's a lot of potential for turning this into an interesting series. Had Johnny's swearing not been so graphically portrayed, the story would have been smoother and better defined. Or, conversely, maybe everyone else should have been harder-boiled.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Mystery reviews from MYSTERIOUS GALAXY

$24.00
ISBN-13: 9781569479810
Availability: Coming Soon - Available for Pre-Order Now
Published: Soho Crime, 11/2011
For those who like their mysteries Dark and Danish! Nina Borg, a Red Cross nurse in Copenhagen, is asked to do a favor for an old friend. Karin leaves Nina a key to a train station locker, and when Nina retrieves the suitcase in the locker, she finds a little boy inside, naked, barely alive and obviously drugged. She encounters a violent man at the train station lockers, leaving her confused, afraid, and hesitant to contact the police. She sets out to discover the boy’s identity and the reason he’s being smuggled into the country. You can look forward to a suspenseful thriller with intriguing characters, a surprising twist and definitely a sequel with nurse Nina. We will have copies with a tipped-in page signed by Lene Kaaberbol, who translated the book from Danish to English as well as co-authoring. -- LNT
 
$25.99
ISBN-13: 9780857682871
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Hard Case Crime, 9/2011 
They say “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but...c’mon. What is one to assume when one sees an image of a nude woman concealing a large knife behind her back as a couple prepares to get intimate?
Happily, one’s assumptions would be correct in this case. Getting Off by Lawrence Block (who here has dusted off his old pseudonym, “Jill Emerson”) is a full-strength dose of depravity. Protagonist Katherine (don’t get too used to the name because she changes it every few days) has one small quirk—she likes to pick up men and kill them post-coitus. Well, usually post. In fact, she decides that she is really bothered by the fact that there are still a half-dozen or so men out there who have “known” her but are still drawing breath. Well, a girl needs a project.
Rest assured that Block pulls no punches and leaves no perversion off the table. Getting Off is the first entry in the Hard Case Crime Series to merit a hardcover edition, and it is easy to see why. Incredibly, you will find yourself rooting for Katherine as she slowly crosses names off her list, with more than a few deadly dalliances along the way. -- MC

from http://www.mystgalaxy.com/Reviews-Hot

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review: Hell and Gone

from Murder by the Book, Portland, Oregon, www.mbtb.com

HELL AND GONE, by Duane Swierczynski (Mullholland Books, $14.99),
recommended by Barbara Tom, Murder by the Book, Portland, Oregon:
This is the second in a projected three-book series about Charlie Hardie.
I'm hoping there will in fact be a third book (Point and Shoot, projected
release date 3/12), because there was a lot of hanging by the fingernails
from a cliff at the end of this one.
Fun and Games was the first book. To my loss I have not read this, but
Swierczynski encapsulates the first book's action very well, as in:
therewasashootoutoverthepeoplehewassupposedtoprotectandanactressgotkilledbut
Charliewasinnocent,gotshotandkidnappedoutofthehospital.
Charlie is a tough guy, apparently too tough to put under with an ordinary
amount of anesthesia. He unexpectedly wakes up to bizarre scenes: in an
ambulance after he's been shot or finding he's stuck on a life-support
system in the trunk of a car. The next thing he knows he has (mostly)
recovered somehow and is now handcuffed to a chair. His arch-nemesis, a
female assassin, is telling him he is the new "warden" of a facility where
they keep "monsters."
Stop.
You probably have the (correct) impression that this is not a normal book of
crime fiction. It's very visual in a ka-bam, pow-y sort of way, but there
are also a lot of nods to old-time pulp fiction. Swierczynski hits his
readers between their eyes with his fast movements. For example, the book
starts this way:
"During the past fifteen minutes Charlie Hardie had been nearly drowned,
shot in his left arm, shot in the side of his head, and almost shot in the
face at point-blank range.
Now he was sprawled out on a damp suburban lawn handcuffed to a crazy
secret-assassin lady who liked to sunbathe topless. He figured things could
only go up from here."
The quotes Swierczynski adds before each chapter warrant a book report all
by themselves. A lot of them are from incarceration fiction and movies:
from Papillon to Cool Hand Luke to the kitschy Shock Corridor. Toss in a
sprinkling from cult classics, books and movies also featuring man vs. The
Man.
Reference Kafka, Sarte (also quoted), or any other existential dude you
want, add kick-ass action, gnarly and grotesque dudes and dudettes who could
be good or bad or both or actors, and shake everything up thoroughly until
you are verging on a headache, and serve.
My best advice is to stop saying "What?" every few minutes as you read the
book. Go with the flow, enjoy the staccato ride, and wait in sweaty and
grimy anticipation for Point and Shoot.

Friday, October 7, 2011

review: Children of the Street, Death of the Mantis, Visible Man

Murder by the Book, www.mbtb.com

The Visible Man, by Chuck Klosterman, Scriber, $25

If you strive to create order out of chaos, perhaps this book isn't for you.
This is one of the quirkier books I've read this year, and it creates a
polite version of chaos.

"Y____" is a visible man; that is, he is human and you can see him. He
chooses Victoria Vick (Vicki Vick?) to be his psychotherapist. He expects
her to believe that he can put on a suit and become an invisible man.

Y____ claims that he cannot observe people as a visible man because that
would change the actions and reactions of the person being observed.
Heisenberg's principle. What better way to find out the true nature of man
than by becoming a fly on the wall, or an invisible man?

Y____ claims to be a scientist whose eventual purpose was to "define reality
... to make order out of chaos." Unfortunately, the goal becomes obscured as
Y____ claims to have tampered with reality, with disastrous results. Does he
feel guilty? Or is he worried because he doesn't feel guilt? Maybe it isn't
guilt at all but Y___ knows that unless he tells somebody about his life, he
doesn't exist.

The book is written from Victoria's viewpoint, with massive inserts of
verbatim monologue by Y____. It's framed as a book Victoria is publishing
about her unusual client. It's a psychological dialectic about whether
observing people without their knowledge is blessed under the banner of
science or morally wrong/criminal. Your mind needs to be open to enjoying
230 pages of that.

My jury is still out about this book. It's intriguing, unique, and vaguely
unsatisfying at the end. There are no heroes; everyone is culpable. And that
must be the lesson in reality.

Will Victoria become victorious? Will Y____ learn why?

----

Children of the Street, by Kwei Quartey, Random House, $15
Death of the Mantis, by Michael Stanley, Harper, $14.99

Africa is a large continent, and it's hard for someone who doesn't know the
countries to keep them straight. Many new authors (joining old-timers James
McClure and Elsbeth Huxley) have been bringing us outstanding series set in
several of the countries, and that should help us individuate them.

Let me pause for a second to say that country and culture are not synonymous
terms. The national borders are artificial constructs, mainly determined by
colonizing Europeans. There may be several tribes who occupy a country, some
of whom have tribal boundaries that pass through more than one country.
There are places that have kept some of the ways and governmental structures
of the colonizing countries, even after the colonizers have gone, in a
synthesis of European and tribal traditions. All this is recognized in some
of the most innovative writing around today.

South Africa, Botswana, and Ghana are brought to life by Alexander McCall
Smith, Malla Nunn, Jassy Mackenzie, Wessel Ebersohn, Michael Stanley, and
Kwei Quartey. Suzanne Arruda and Henning Mankell (when he's not writing
bleak mysteries set in Sweden) also have books set in Africa.

Michael Stanley's series is set in Botswana, and Kwei Quartey's in Ghana.
Both authors deal with serious issues that affect these countries. In
Stanley's case, it is the plight of the nomadic Bushman tribes, and in
Quartey's it is the homeless children who live in poverty and without
protection in the slums of Accra.

Death of the Mantis is the third in the series by authors Stanley Trollip
and Michael Sears, writing under the pen name of Michael Stanley. Set in
Botswana with a Batswana police detective, David "Kubu" -- which means
hippopotamus, a reflection of his enormous girth -- Bengu, this series is
not at all like McCall Smith's Precious Ramotswe books. Although it is by no
means a blood-and-guts series, there are dead bodies, coroner's reports, and
police detection.

This time Bengu is asked by a Bushman friend from childhood, someone he
hasn't seen in a while, to help two Bushman hunters who have been arrested
for the murder of a park ranger. Stanley does a good job describing how
endangered the wandering Bushman people are, with development and the
concept of private property threatening to take away their rights to roam
the Kalahari Desert at will. As with the Aboriginal people of Australia, the
Bushman people are able to travel in what to us appears to be a featureless
wasteland, without gadgets or maps. They, too, have sacred spots and rituals
handed down from one generation to another.

It almost doesn't matter what the murder mystery is because the compelling
story is about the Bushman people and their struggle to survive.

Kwei Quartey's Children of the Street may be hard for some people to read.
Authors are often told, don't kill children or animals. But the unvarnished
truth is that children die in unacceptable numbers in parts of Africa, and a
lot of them live in squalor.

Darko Dawson is a police detective who loves his job and his family. He
doesn't like to play the political games necessary to be in the police
force, and he has a temper when he sees injustice. It takes all his
ingenuity to help the Accra police focus on the right people when children
from the slum areas are murdered. Could it be part of a ritual? Or is it
business as usual in an area of town where the biggest bullies usually win?

Quartey's mystery is a vehicle for him to bring to our attention a difficult
problem facing many poor nations. Children are homeless, starving, on their
own, and living in filth. He gives them a small voice in his moving book.

We probably don't want to hear what either Stanley or Quartey tells us. It's
hard to imagine the inequality that exists so far away. Although their books
are works of fiction, they are based on real issues. Both authors tell their
stories in different but equally compelling ways. They are well worth
reading.


END

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Online Reviews this Month


From the Mystery Galaxy, http://www.mystgalaxy.com/Reviews-Hot

Reamde (Hardcover)

By Neal Stephenson
$35.00
ISBN-13: 9780061977961
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: William Morrow, 9/2011
There's a lot to like in Neal Stephenson's new novel, Reamde. As a spy-action thriller, the book is fun and it is fast – it's a terrific ride from beginning to end. Vintage Stephenson is very much in evidence too: the virtual reality worlds of Snow Crash and the meticulous descriptions in Wired magazine of the economic and engineering underpinnings of our digital world appear again to great effect. Much is new: I found Stephenson's description of the new China arising within the global economy completely fascinating.
Most fascinating for me, however, was something much more personal. Amidst all the action and fighting, as the Forthrast family and their friends attempt to protect themselves across several continents from the depredations of Russian gangsters and Islamic terrorists, Stephenson seems to be exploring what counts for him as essential moral or human values. He turns to virtues like courage, knowing how to deal with whatever stuff that comes down, the willingness to act violently when necessary, restraint, chivalry. In an earlier age these might have been called manly qualities, but they apply to women as well: after all, the women in this book are more manly than the men, as they kick ass and shoot and fight better than the guys around them, no question about it. In Reamde, Stephenson reminds us how to live. This above all makes the book great and worth reading. -- dj

The Taker (Hardcover)

By Alma Katsu
$25.00
ISBN-13: 9781439197059
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Gallery Books, 9/2011
Alma's debut novel moves through multiple locales and time-periods – 14th century Hungary, 18th – 19th century New England, and present day Maine, among others – as she explores the extended lives and passions of a group of immortals. Lanore McIlvrae is brought into an emergency room by the police, suspected in the murder of a strange man in the Maine woods. The doctor who treats her is fascinated by the woman and her strange compelling story of what led her to kill the love of her long long life, a man she first fell in love with some three hundred years prior, and why their particular brand of immortality might be a curse, not a gift. Particularly recommended for fans of Deborah Harkness and other rich historical novels of magic. -- MeH

The Shattering
Karen Healey
Little, Brown and Company, September 2011
ISBN 978-0-316-12572-7
Hardcover
Summerton is a lovely resort town on the west coast of New Zealand, a town that's perhaps a bit too perfect. While other small towns struggle to remain vibrant and appealing and they watch their residents, especially the younger ones, move away in search of better lives, Summerton just continues to attract tourists in greater numbers and few of its inhabitants ever leave for good.
Seventeen-year-old Keri is struggling to understand why her beloved older brother, Jake, would have committed suicide, never having indicated that anything was wrong. One of the worst things for Keri is that she always had plans for every contingency, no matter how unlikely, and that made her feel safe; Jake's death, this way, was something she had never even considered. She found him and, although she has blocked out the memory, the pain of not understanding is intense and she takes little comfort from the family gathering for the Maori celebration of his life.
Then, an old childhood friend, Janna, approaches her one day and asks if she would like to know who murdered Jake and Keri immediately senses that this may not be a wild idea. Janna tells her a boy from Auckland, Sione, is on his way to town to show her his research indicating a string of suicides over a period of years, all older brothers living in scattered areas of the country but who had all been in Summerton on New Year's Eve. Sione has identified a number of other odd patterns in these deaths and the three teens set out to find the killer and exact revenge. The perfect town of Summerton, though, may not let that happen.
I'm a big fan of young adult dark fantasy and I'm always on the lookout for something a little different. The New Zealand setting of this story was what first attracted me but the first page hooked me thoroughly. I immediately "felt" who Keri was , what drove her, and Janna and Sione took equal billing. That's partly because of the author's style in having each chapter be from the perspective of one of the three but there's more to it than that. All along, I believed these characters and experienced their emotions, their physical pain and their moments of happiness—even in the midst of great sorrow and anger, there will be happiness. I couldn't help thinking I'd like to know these teens. Put quite simply, Karen Healey has created a mesmerizing tale and is a writer to watch.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2011.

From Kingdom Books, http://kingdombks.blogspot.com

THE BLOOD ROYAL by Barbara Cleverly

Soho Press brought out the new newest Barbara Cleverly detective novel featuring Joe Sandilands last month, THE BLOOD ROYAL. It's a keeper -- a smoothly written and delicious classic detective story, as the Metropolitan Police Commander returns in 1922 to England after a lengthy posting to India. Between assignments to control Irish terrorism and high-profile assassination attempts, a White Russian spy network, and reestablishing himself at New Scotland Yard, Joe is beset by enormous challenges. Tightly plotted and full of insight into England's postwar politics, this is a sweeping and lively book with likable characters and entertaining twists.

But -- that's not why I'm saying it's a "Must Read."

Cleverly's two series have been frequently underrated, and she's often waited much longer than deserved for and recognition. As an example, although shortlisted in 1999, Cleverly finally received the Crime Writers Association Ellis Peters Historical Dagger award in 2004. And even her fans (including her publishers) seem unable to count her books: I count nine in the Joe Sandilands series, three with Laetitia Talbot (archaeologist turned detective), and one stand-alone, for a total of 13 novels so far, following a previous career as a teacher.

So it's simple math (and a dash of intuition or insight) that leads me to suspect Cleverly will scoop up awards in the near future, and with Soho Press now behind her, she has a clear field for publishing more of these well-written investigations.

Wouldn't it be great to know all of her books before the next award is announced? But if there isn't time for that, it makes sense to at least move THE BLOOD ROYAL onto the Must Read shelf. Yes?

* * *

A sample from the book:
"I saw her," [Joe Sandilands] said. "Briefly before they drove her home. Stunner! She'd certainly have diverted the admiral's and the driver's attention. Yes, two dark-clad men, profiting from a distraction, could have got across the road without being spotted. And they were wearing rubber-soled shoes. In any case, any sound would have been masked by the noise of the taxi engine, which had been left running." He heaved a sigh. "The admiral dismissed the cabby, and strolled down to his front door. The moment he stood on the doorstep, off guard and backlit by the hall lights, they struck."

"I'm wondering why the cabby didn't set off at once, sir?"

"Waiting -- as he'd said he would -- to make sure all was well?" Sandilands suggested. "Some sort of argy-bargy with the girl? Checking directions?"

He broke off and then said, with decision: "But look here -- that's enough desk work. Before we go to the hospital, or the jail, why don't I take you out to look at the scene?"

From MBTB Houston  http://www.murderbooks.com/

G.M. Malliet's Wicked Autumn (Minotaur; $23.99)
(Available September 13th) What could be more dangerous than cozy village life in the English countryside?
Max Tudor has adapted well to his post as vicar of St. Edwold's in the idyllic village of Nether Monkslip. The quiet village seems the perfect home for Max, who has fled a harrowing past as an MI5 agent. Now he has found a measure of peace among urban escapees and yoga practitioners, artists and crafters and New Agers. But this new-found serenity is quickly shattered when the highly vocal and unpopular president of the Women's Institute turns up dead at the Harvest Fayre. The death looks like an accident, but Max's training as a former agent kicks in, and before long he suspects foul play.
Max has ministered to the community long enough to be familiar with the tangled alliances and animosities among the residents, but this tragedy surprises and confounds him. It is impossible to believe anyone in his lovely village capable of the crime, and yet given the victim, he must acknowledge that almost everyone had probably fantasized about killing Wanda Batton-Smythe.
As the investigation unfolds, Max becomes more intricately involved. Memories he'd rather not revisit are stirred, evoking the demons from the past which led him to Nether Monkslip. In WICKED AUTUMN, G.M. Malliet serves up an irresistible English village--deliciously skewered--a flawed but likeable protagonist, and a brilliantly modern version of the traditional drawing room mystery.

The Gentlemen's Hour, by Don Winslow (hardcover, $25)

Dude, this is a most excellent follow-up to The Dawn Patrol. Macking, even.

Returning to a lighter, more humorous style than the dark pieces he has been writing (e.g., Power of the Dog), Don Winslow brings us another story in the life of surf bum and private eye Boone Daniels.

Besides the Peter Pan-like boardriders, San Diego is home to Mexican drug cartels, real estate con men, American drug crazies, white supremacists, and lots of rich people. Boone tangles with the various groups when he is drafted to do investigative work for the attorneys defending a young man accused of murdering a surf legend, Kelly Kuhio. "K2" was an inspiration to many and a mentor to Boone, yet Boone is convinced that Corey Blasingame -- a spoiled, nasty little rich kid -- is innocent of murdering Kelly.

Complicating matters is another murder, this time it's the lover of the wife of another surfer. Boone had been hired by Dan Nichols to determine if his wife was having an affair. Soon after telling Dan the bad news, Boone learns that the lover has been murdered.

His involvement in the two murders puts Boone on the outs with the rest of the surfing community, including best friend and fellow surfer Johnny "Banzai" Kodani, the homicide detective in charge of both cases. Despite the alienation, Boone trudges forward, convinced that K2 himself would have urged Boone to trust his instincts.

"Gentlemen's Hour" refers to the second surf shift. Boone usually hangs out with the Dawn Patrol crew, the younger, more competitive surfers. The surfers of the Gentlemen's Hour are more laid back, older. When Boone is shunned by his own crew, he begins to hang with the older men, a sad endnote to Boone's surfing days, he thinks.

Don Winslow's story races along, but thankfully, it's not all about the plot. There are wonderfully eccentric characters, including a couple of the villains. I defy you not to enjoy the characterizations of Red Eddie, a good old, relocated Hawaiian boy who's the head of a dangerous mob, and his henchmen. Boone's reminiscences of Kelly carry the story into more tender, philosophical regions. The "Surfbonics" that the Dawn Patrol uses in their conversations is amusing and gives a good sense of community.

Finally, having grown up in Hawaii, I especially appreciated the surf talk and the rendering of Hawaiian pidgeon, both of which Winslow did very well.



Connolly, John, The Burning Soul, Hodder/Atria. Although I wasn't too happy when both the American and British publishers pushed Connolly back to September (he's usually May/June) this latest book in the Charlie Parker series was well worth the wait. His previous two titles, The Lovers and The Whisperers, were good, but I felt them to be a little rushed. The Burning Soul, however, feels true to form and reminds me of the Connolly of old. When a young girl goes missing in a small, coastal town in Maine, every law enforcement agency in the country seems to be on hand to help. Including, for reasons to be discovered later, the FBI's organized crime department. Then there's Randall Haight; a mild-mannered accountant who comes to Parker for protection, his story of past wrongs coming back to haunt him ringing a little false. Soon Parker's up to his neck in secrets, lies, and some things that can't be named. The mystery element in this one is superb; you'll find yourself second- and triple-guessing your conclusions almost immediately. And beneath it all is Connolly's signature "honey-comb world." The Burning Soul hints at some elements of Parker's life coming to a head and you just know a showdown with the darker aspects of this world are on the way. Signed UK, $45.00. Signed US, $26.00.
Also recommended:
Morgenstern, Erin, The Night Circus, Doubleday. I'm a sucker for circus novels: let's just get that out in the open now. Something Wicked This Way Comes is still one of my all-time favorite books. So when a new one comes across my desk I'm equal parts thrilled and suspicious. Will it rehash those tired old circus-folk stereotypes? Will the venue just act as a dressing for our ho-hum reality? Luckily, The Night Circus quickly allayed my fears. Erin Morgenstern has crafted a novel of literary origami, a term I think you'll find very apt once you begin reading. It's a novel that doesn't so much blend images or genres, but places them side-by-side: romance, mystery, murder, and some magic to tie it altogether. Much like Zafon's Shadow of the Wind, Morgenstern's novel is assured in its unreality. But there are also consequences for each character's actions and the novel does not ignore the era of its setting, or time itself for that matter. Ultimately the novel is compulsively readable and enjoyable on several levels. The Night Circus is easily one of the hottest books of the Fall, and will be perfect for Halloween, if not the long Winter nights ahead. Signed. $26.95


From Sleuth of Baker Street http://sleuthofbakerstreet.ca/#Newsletter


A Double Death On the Black Isle (#2) ($15.00 trade paperback due in late September) by
A.D. SCOTT, an engaging story set in the Scottish Highlands of
1957, featuring the staff of a small town newspaper. The main character,
Joanne Ross, escaping from an abusive marriage and now
working for the local Highland Gazette, becomes involved in the baffling
murders of two men on the same day and from the same estate
on Black Isle. The first to die, Fraser Munro, is the ne'er-do-well son
of tenants on the farm of Joanne's childhood friend, Patricia Ord
Mackenzie. The second to die, Sandy Skinner, another nogoodnik, is
Patricia's husband. And in keeping with the prejudice of the times,
two young men (gypsies/travellers) are quickly charged with the murders.
Okay, it's somewhat complicated but the story flows well and is
rich with suspense. And to add emotional interest, much of the tale
centres on Joanne in her new role as a cub reporter and single mother
- both situations very rare in 1950's Highlands. She is torn as to
whether to report on the two murders or support Patricia. This is not
a comfy read but rather a very real look at Scottish Highland society
at a time of major change. Scott describes the post-war society where
ancient order is somewhat disintegrating but where religious and racial
bigotry is still widespread, wife abuse is excused, victims are
routinely blamed and where many still follow superstitions of old.
Scott's writing has a ring of authenticity as she was born and raised
in the Highlands and spent her holidays on the Black Isle. 
I so enjoyed this tale chock-full of action and characters that have depth and dimension.

from Seattle Mystery Bookshop, http://www.seattlemystery.com/jb

The Cut (Hardcover)

$25.99
ISBN-13: 9780316078429
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Reagan Arthur Books, 8/2011
If you've not read George Pelecanos, you're missing a writer who is great on many levels. First, there's the writing, which is strong and understated in that Hammett/Macdonald/Block vein – nothing flashy or Chandlerian but solid and grounded in a way that propels the story along. Second, his books are set amongst the blue-collar denizens of DC. No politicians, no grand plots or conspiracies, just ordinary folks trying to get through life. And third, his people are often dealing with the terrible choices and mistakes they've made in their pasts.
The Cut introduces a new character, Spero Lucas. Lucas was adopted by set of loving Greek parents. He's a recent veteran of the Afghan war and happenstances have landed him a job as an investigator. He's discovered that he's good at finding things and, when he does, he asks for a cut of the value of the returned 'thing'. He does his own work in between jobs for a defense attorney. The job that makes up the story of The Cut stems from one of those gigs.
Spero is an interesting guy, very methodical, still numbed by the war but coping well now that he's back in his neighborhood. We know, from the start for instance, that he's adopted but we never do learn whether he's black or white or any particular shade. And this abiguity is heightened by his ability to go wherever he needs to and to interact with whomever he needs to. He's really an 'anybody', a guy you can foist your own thoughts and feelings on and that makes him immenently human. And as a Marine, he's immenently confident and capable and can and will slide through his days making things work.
This is supposedly the start of a new series. Great! Lucas is a young guy busy making his life up as he goes. Hard to say he's having fun but he certainly feels as if he's heading that way, and that's fun for us. And I'm sure that some of Pelecanos' earlier characters will show up in Lucas' stories. He's out looking over a crime scene and it is mentioned that just around the corner is the office of a different PI, Derek Strange. Lucas eats meals in various Greek restaurants and they're probably the same ones from earlier books. If DC didn't already exist, Pelecanos would have created it from scratch and we could walk the streets with his people.