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.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Online Reviews this Month

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

Reamde (Hardcover)

By Neal Stephenson
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
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
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)

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.

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