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.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

reviews from Seattle Mystery Bookshop

The Ionia SanctionThe Ionia Sanction (Hardcover)

ISBN-13: 9780312599010
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Minotaur Books, 11/2011

Nico's life has taken a decided downturn. Not only has his girlfriend, Diotima, left town, but Nico's sponsor, Pericles, is threatening to fire Nico.
In order to keep his job, Nico agrees to transport a beautiful slave girl to Persia while investigating the murder of an Athenian statesman. But outwitting the brigands sent to kill him and solving the mystery of the murder may very well pale when Nico runs into Diotima with his slave girl in tow!
Gary Corby's series has been likened to Lindsay Davis' "Marcus Didius Falco" series, but that comparison only goes so far, in my opinion. Corby's characters are just as compelling, his research into the time is excellent, and his storytelling is wonderful. But Gary Corby proves in this sequel to The Pericles Commission (Minotaur, $14.99, October) that he is his own author, and that he's not afraid to write about customs as they really were, without prettying things up. There are a few scenes that had me glancing away from the page, but I had to go immediately back because his writing is so absorbing, and I really do care about what happens to the folks who inhabit Corby's books.

ISBN-13: 9780385344012
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Delacorte Press, 11/2011
Christmas in the de Luce household has never been as action-packed as it is in the next Alan Bradley novel, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (November). Finances are tight at Buckshaw Manor, and Flavia's father reluctantly allows a cine' crew access to the stately old house for their filming. The whole village is excited by the idea that legendary film star, Phyllis Wyvern,will be in attendance, and Flavia's older sister, Ophelia, is hoping for a part.

Miss Wyvern, however, is not as nice as everyone believed, and when she's found dead with a length of her film wrapped around her throat, Flavia kicks into high gear. Add in a blizzard and Flavia's determination to capture Father Christmas (she has the perfect chemical paste!), and you know that, once again, the de Luce family will capture your heart. But will they capture the evil-doer?

You really can't go wrong with any of Flavia's adventures. Fast-paced, charming and frequently poignant, Alan Bradley has tapped into the heart and mind of a precocious 11 year old girl, and I Am Half-Sick of Shadows is absolutely no exception.

And, as an added bonus and if my Advance Reader Copy is to be believed, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows will make an excellent holiday present, with a special page presenting this book from Flavia and. . .perhaps you? to a soon-to-be-delighted recipient.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Killer Books

Submitted by Barbara Tom of Murder by the Book, Portland, Oregon,

Practical Jean, by Trevor Cole
Harper Perennial, $13.99

(Part way through this review, I decided that you would learn a major plot
device if you read this. If you want to be totally surprised by this unusual
book, read the book first. And don't read the description on the back

This unusual book begins with the narrator obliquely letting us know that
something has happened, and it has to do with Jean and Jean's friends. The
prologue ends with, "And here in Kotemee, all anyone can say now is, 'Thank
God I was never a good friend of Jean Vale Horemarsh.'" Then the story
backtracks to what began it all: Jean's mother's painful, lingering death.

The book's ironic and subdued tone reminds me so much of the television
shows "Desperate Housewives," "Pushing Daisies," "Six Feet Under" and "Twin
Peaks." Like them, Practical Jean is an odd dramedy, a term that some media
wit coined to indicate both comedic and dramatic aspects. (As Jean might
say, "Isn't that a sweet phrase?") There's a wink to the audience that
includes them in the joke. Irony leaks through every crack in this book.

Back to Jean's mother's death. Jean and her mother had a difficult
relationship, but it was up to Jean to take care of her mother during her
last few months of life. Afterwards, Jean knew that she didn't want anyone
she loved to die the way her mother did: unhappy, in pain, old, disabled,
with regrets. So she sets out to find out what would make her best
girlfriends happy. She would do whatever it took to make them happy. Then
she would kill them.

Jean is insane but her motivation has a certain logic. Wouldn't you want
someone you loved to be happy? Trevor Cole smartly inserts flashbacks to
Jean's childhood and teenage years. They provide a pathos that contrasts
with and will carry the reader through the bizarre plans Jean makes.

Drama, comedy, pathos, told with an ironic voice. If the book isn't speaking
to you within the first 20 pages, give up because it only gets weirder.

Here are a few quotes to help you decide whether you want to read this book:

On finding Jean's inspiration: "Š[A] pre-idea, a vague and smoky intuition,
was beginning to form in Jean's mind, gather and condensing into something
potentially powerful, potentially great, like a mob massing before a riot."

On her husband Milt: "In both hands she took the heavy cheeks of his face,
felt the smooth, shaved skin against her palms, and steered his head toward
her the way she might move a roast of beef, looking for the best place to

At a town gathering: "Š[T]he two women were forced to wade through children
like Mennonites through fields of flax."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Innocent by Taylor Stevens

from Beth Kanell, Kingdom Books, Waterford, VT, KingdomBks@gmail.com, http://kingdombks.blogspot.com) --

The Innocent by Taylor Stevens (Crown, 2011, $24)

When I "found" the first mystery by Taylor Stevens, The Informationist, I quit everything else for a day and a half and devoured the book. Vanessa Michael Munroe -- known as Michael to her friends, and generally Munroe in the narrative -- has an extraordinary skill in processing information, masses of it, and works with an organization that can assemble it for her, as well as help her field teams where needed for paid assignments that depend on that information. Munroe is also powerfully skilled in self-defense, even to the level of killing when necessary. But the reason she has this other packet of skills reaches back to a truly terrifying adolescence, when brutal abuse forced her to reclaim power over her life through violent response. It's a skill that's dangerous to both her body and her soul, and she's aware of it.

As the second book in the series opens, The Innocent, Munroe is battling an equally violent inner enemy: a form of PTSD that has her reliving all the times she's killed people, and then forcing people she loves into the dreamscape. For good reason, she's become afraid of what she'll do while in the grip of these persuasive nightmares.

And that's just when her long-time friend and ally, Logan, turns up, begging for her help in rescuing an abducted child. Not only has the child been stolen from her parents, but the girl, on the cusp of adolescence, is being held in a cult where abuse of "innocent" children is destroying their lives. It's way too close to what Munroe experienced in her own childhood, and Logan's plea hits all the intimate, impossible-to-decline buttons in her. She's on her way to Argentina. But will Logan's emotional involvement with this kidnapped child capsize Munroe's careful plans and narrow window of opportunity? And how are her flashbacks affecting her ability to cope -- both from lack of sleep, and from the mingled rage and guilt consuming her?

This time, I needed to pace myself in reading what Taylor Stevens has dished up. Far more so than in, say, an Andrew Vachss child abuse crime novel or the massive volumes of the Lisbeth Salander trilogy, Stevens creates a path for readers to identify with Munroe and her choices. This is an avenging CatWoman with scruples, an adept warrior with grief and shadows. I felt that Stevens, whose own past included much of what she writes about -- plus a heroic escape into mainstream life, complete with self-education and a determination to do what Robert Ludlum did in his Jason Bourne trilogy -- could have over-informed the story. But instead, this author has skillfully edited and pared away excess, crafting a strong and unforgettable novel. The Innocent portrays the invisible heroism that comes from determinedly battling, and perhaps vanquishing, the demons of the past.

Plus, through the dark and the fear, Stevens weaves strong friendships and well-nourished love. The Innocent didn't leave me in the dark prisons of violence; it lifted a windowframe, opened a door, pointed the way toward a cleaner, better way.

Beth Kanell