Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Dry by Jane Harper

Kiewarra is a small farming community in rural Australia and Aaron Falk's hometown.  He lived there until he was sixteen when the town turned against him and his father after the death of his girlfriend.  Some called it murder and some suspected either Aaron or his father of the crime.  Aaron was never formally suspected as his best friend Luke gave him an alibi.  The problem was that the alibi was false.  The town at first shunned Aaron and his father then the issue escalated until the two were basically run out of town.

Twenty years on, Aaron has made a life in Sydney.  He is a Federal Agent, working in the Financial Division.  He is startled when he sees a news story from Kiewarra.  It states that Luke Hadler, his old friend, has killed his family and then himself.  Aaron is shocked as it is nothing he could ever have believed of Luke.  Then Luke's father calls, asking Aaron to return to town for the funeral and stating that he knows Luke's alibi all those years ago was a lie.

Aaron returns and the town is undergoing hard times.  There is a drought the likes of which hasn't been seen in decades and everything is drying up and withering.  Money is tight as more and more farmers go under and stores close.  In the midst of the general suffering, the crime is even more horrifying.  As Aaron learns more, he continues to question if Luke was really capable of doing this.  Luke's father doesn't believe it either and the new policeman in town has doubts.  He accepts Aaron's help and they start to delve into the crime and soon discover that the town is hiding even more secrets than they ever suspected.

This is Jane Harper's debut novel although she has been a journalist for years.  It was a #1 bestseller in Australia and has already been commissioned for a movie.  The story is stark, fitting the atmosphere and environment it is placed in.  The writing is sparse and the reader is transported to a small farming community on the verge of panic as everything dries up and is tinder-ready.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin

Malcolm Fox never expects to be liked.  As a member of the Professional Standards Unit of the police, more commonly called The Complaints, it's his job to investigate other policemen in the Scottish police force to uncover corruption.  But that means he comes into every case with a big boulder of suspicion and distaste to overcome.

He is brought into his new case to investigate the other members of a police force suspected of helping Paul Carter, who is accused of using his position to coerce sexual favors from women.  In the course of his team's investigation, Fox interviews the suspect's uncle, Alan Carter, a former policeman who now runs a security investigation.  Carter is working on a case that has roots going back twenty years ago to an unsettled time in Scottish history.  There were various terrorist separatist organizations and the rising star of one of them was killed nearby in a wreck.  Carter has been hired to see if that long-ago wreck was the result of an accident or whether it was murder.  Fox becomes embroiled in that case as well as the one on which his team is working when Alan Carter is killed, Paul is suspected and then also killed.

As Fox investigates the two murders he is drawn back into the secrets of the past and those who want those secrets to remain buried.  In the meantime, his personal life is complicated by the declining health of his father and between the two situations, he is torn yet persistent.  His dogged perseverance makes him unpopular but good at what he does.

Ian Rankin is one of the top mystery writers in Scotland.  His long series about Inspector John Rebus is one of the most successful.  He gives an accurate recounting of police procedures and the way that secrets can rise again years later.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

How did Kate Battista reach this point in her life?  She doesn't know exactly what she thought her life would be, but probably not this.  Kate is twenty-nine.  She dropped out of college and now serves as her father's housekeeper and raises her teenage sister, Bunny.  Dr. Battista is the original absent-minded professor, full of ideas about his research but uninterested in the house and raising the two daughters his wife left him when she died.  His contribution to the household is a series of processes to make the house run efficiently.  No time or energy to cook?  It doesn't matter as once a week a mash of meat and vegetables is prepared and then every dinner is mash.

Kate has fallen into a stopgap job that somehow has lasted for years.  She is an assistant at a preschool, where the children love her but the parents and administration are much less entranced with her honest, blunt truthfulness.  No sugarcoating truths about behaviors for Kate.  If a child asks who the best artist in the room is, Kate will tell him, not worrying about egos but feeling that the best artist is just a fact, not something to get a personality crushed over.  She has some feelings for the only male on staff, a sensitive man who works in the two year old room, but has no idea if he has any feelings for her.

Then Dr. Battista has his brainstorm.  His research is at a critical juncture.  The university has grown tired of waiting for a breakthrough and his labs have been moved further and further away from the main areas.  His only salvation is his assistant, Pyotr, a brilliant man who came over three years ago to work with him.  They are about to get to the next level but Pyotr's visa is also about to run out.  Immigration will insist on him returning to Europe.  What to do?

It's obvious to Dr. Battista.  Kate can marry Pyotr and then he can stay and work on the research as always.  Pyotr, a younger version of Battista's singlemindedness, seems to be fine with the idea and intrigued by Kate.  Kate is appalled and can't believe her father would marry her off like livestock.  What will become of the Battista family and Pyotr?

Anne Tyler is one of the masters of American literature still working today.  She has received the Pultizer Prize and been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.  She has written twenty-one novels, each probing the intricatcies of characters the average person may not wonder about, but Tyler reveals the truth that each of us is an interesting individual with hopes and desires of our own.  This retelling of Shakespeare's The Taming Of The Shrew is a delightful addition to her work and is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Bitter Moon by Alexandra Sokoloff

Female serial killer Cara Linstrom is free from custody.  Against the police's wishes, she was granted bail in San Francisco and quickly disappeared.  FBI Agent Matthew Roarke, who has become obsessed with the woman and her crimes, has taken a leave of absence from the Bureau while he decides if he is done with law enforcement.  Everyone knows her story, how when she was five a terrifying monster of a man broke into her house and killed her entire family.  Only Cara survived and she was scarred for life by his slashing of her throat.  She was known as 'The Miracle Girl' or at least she was until she started taking revenge.

In his quest to understand Cara, Roarke visits places from her childhood.  He goes to the beach town where she stayed for a while, then goes to the small desert town of Las Piedras.  He is drawn there by the call of a bitter police officer who accuses him of letting Cara go free, but he stays as he starts to realize that this town was the place where Cara started her life on the run.  She was sent there by the social services system after spending two years in prison for wounding a social worker and a fifteen year old boy.  There is no talk about what the two males were doing in Cara's room late at night, only that she has been violent.  Las Piedras is supposed to be a new start but Cara finds that evil exists everywhere.

Cara was only in the town for a short while but it was an eventful time.  The social worker she had been imprisoned for fighting is found murdered.  A building is torched.  And two girls die.  One is the survivor of a horrific rape which left her injured and unable to go back into society.  The other is a quiet girl that Cara notices in the high school and who commits suicide.  Is Cara connected to these crimes?

As Roarke investigates he realizes that something more in going on in the quiet little town.  A monster or maybe monsters reside there and evil has stalked the place for many years.  He finds an ally in a elderly nun who has made her life's work helping children who have no other voice.  Can Roarke find the men who are ruining Las Piedras and discover another piece of the jigsaw that is Cara's life?

This is the fourth book in the Roarke/Lindstrom series.  Sokoloff writes a tense narrative, alternating the viewpoint between Matthew and Cara.  Readers get to feel what it was like to be a young teenage Cara and the forces that bent her to the woman she is now.  The author also uses the narrative to highlight a shameful fact of law enforcement.  There are thousands of rape kits with possible DNA matches that were never tested.  They remain on shelves, waiting for someone to have the funds and motivation to solve the crimes they represent.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Trespasser by Tana French

It seems like a routine murder, maybe one step up from the dreary domestic cases Antoinette Conway has become used to getting in her two years on the Dublin Murder Squad.  She and her partner, Stephen Moran, head out to the scene when given the call by the boss, even though they are due to go home.  The victim, Aislinn Murray, is all dressed up with the house ready for an intimate dinner with someone.  She has fallen backward onto the fireplace, striking her head and bleeding out.

It seems an easy case at first.  Lover's quarrel gone wrong.  Boyfriend arrives for dinner, something goes awry, a fight occurred, maybe a shove, and suddenly it's tragedy.  When they find the man who is coming to dinner, he seems ready-made for the scenario.  Rory Fallon is hesitant, a bit of a nerd, someone who seemed unlikely to attract the stunning Aislinn.  His story is that they met at his bookstore a month or so ago.  They went out to dinner, had a drink and this was the first visit to Aislinn's house and a big step forward in their relationship.  He is puzzled and angry when he arrives, rings the bell, waits a bit, texts and then phones her, but never gets a response.  After waiting a half hour or so, he finally decides she is blowing him off for some reason and that he has been made a fool.  He stomps off angrily and walks home.

The veteran detective, Breslin, helping with the case, is sure it's the routine story it seems to be and is pushing for a quick arrest.  But Conway isn't sure.  Aislinn's best friend is sure that Aislinn is over the top crazy about this new man in her life.  She thinks there may be another man around, one that Aislinn is trying to move out of her life.  Other strange things occur.  Antoinette sees a man scoping out her street a couple of times.  When she goes out to confront him, he is gone.  The local pushy newspaper reporter all of a sudden feels free to go over the line and make Antoinette look incompetent and lazy, a move he'd never have had the nerve to do before.  Conway is not a favorite on the squad, being the only woman.  She has faced two years of harassment and her only friend is her partner and now she's not sure of him either.  Can she close the case without making the mistake that gets her punted off the squad?

Tana French is one of the shining stars of mystery writing.  Her forte is character development, giving the reader an inside look at the case and personality of a Murder Squad detective as the case slowly unfolds.  There is always lots going on beneath the surface and betrayal and evil are quick to slow their faces.  Her forte is the stunning conclusion and this novel doesn't disappoint in that regard.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Booksie's Shelves, December 16, 2016

It's almost Christmas so very busy everywhere.  I've been shopping, wrapping, and harrying a vendor who lost my husband's big gift for Christmas.  It finally arrived late yesterday after multiple delivery promises, daily or twice daily calls, getting the supervisor in California's personal phone number and tons of angst.  My daughter is now home with a first college semester under her belt.  The dog has been having health issues and its still unsure exactly what the diagnosis is but at least she seems to feel better with her new medicine.  All in all, ready for a good holiday with the family here and then a trip to visit the grandkids.

Here's what has come through the door lately:

1.  Dodge City, Tom Clavin, western, won online
2.  The Lost City Of The Monkey God, Douglas Preston, nonfiction/travel, won online
3.  The Devil's Country, Harry Hunsicker, mystery, sent by publisher
4.  Setting Free The Kites, Alex George, literary fiction, sent by publisher
5.  Nest, Terry Goodkind, thriller, sent by publisher
6.  Secondhand Smoke, M. Louis, mystery, sent by publisher
7.  The Fifth Petal, Brunonia Barry, historical fantasy, won online
8.  Chaos, Patricia Cornwell, mystery, sent by publisher
9.  The Spider And The Fly, Claudia Rowe, true crime, won online
10.  Southern Gothic, Dale Wiley, mystery, sent by publisher
11.  Karma And The Butter Chicken, Monica Bhide, culinary fiction, sent by publisher
12.  Dangerous Pilgrims, Lawrence Swaim, thriller, sent by author
13.  Leopard At The Door, Jennifer McVeigh, historical fiction, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Impossible Dead, Ian Rankin, hardbac
2.  Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem, Kindle
Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt,  Kindle Fire

4. The Trespasser, Tana French, hardback
5.  Vinegar Girl, Anne Tyler,  Kindle Fire
6.  His Bloody Project, Graeme McCrae Burnet, Kindle Fire
7.  The Forrests, Emily Perkins, paperback
8.  Barkskins, Annie Proulx, hardback

9.  Bitter Lemons, Lawrence Durrell, paperback
10.  Wolf Hall, Hillary Mantel, hardback

Happy Reading!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Confessions Of A Serial Killer by Katherine Ramsland

The letters BTK terrorized the Wichita, Kansas area for thirty years.  They referred to a serial killer who had adopted the title of Bind, Torture, Kill as his chosen name.  His acts were gruesome, starting with the torture and murder of four members of a family, two of whom were children.  From 1974 when he killed the family to 2004, when he was finally captured, he killed ten people, mostly women.

After his arrest, confession, trial and imprisonment, Katherine Ramsland reached out and established a relationship with Dennis Rader, the man behind the BTK title.  His case fascinated many in the true crime world.  He had a spate of murders, then nothing for many years, then he started killing again after decades.  This was contrary to serial killer profiles which assume that once started, a serial killer will never stop killing.  A bigger shock was the identity of the killer.  Rader was not a marginal person unable to hold a job or have a relationship.  He was involved in his church and even elected president of his local church council.  He was involved in the Boy Scouts as a leader.  He was married to his wife with no outside relationships, and they had two children.  He held a responsible job.  What was the story behind his crimes?

Ramsland spent five years researching the case and speaking with Rader through correspondence, phone calls and prison visits.  She outlines a man who had been consumed with thoughts of binding as an aid to sexual release since childhood.  Rader had an extensive fantasy life, filled with thoughts of railroad ties on which he wanted to position victims, torture castles, abandoned railcars and old barns.  He spent hours clipping pictures of women, writing about his fantasies, collecting true detective magazines and books about serial killers.  If he didn't have a victim, he practiced self-bondage in what he called 'motel parties'.  His wife didn't know about his crimes, although she had discovered him dressed in women's clothes and with bondage items.  But he promised it would never happen again and she believed it didn't.  Instead, Rader just went further underground, hiding his activities rather than ceasing them.

Readers will be chilled to read Rader's words, how he sees himself still as a good person who did some bad things.  He was able to live under the radar for so long by 'cubing', totally separating the two sides of his personality.  But he never really stopped.  He spent weeks stalking a victim before attempting anything.  He never stopped stalking women and he had long lists of 'projects' as he called women.  Having worked in the security business, he knew about breaking into houses.  Rader's nonchalant recounting of all the women he stalked is chilling.  During his 'dormant' years, he was in reality still actively stalking women.  He broke into several houses during this time only to find the occupants not there.  If they had been, he would have killed them as he did the others.  He was caught when he decided the BTK Killer wasn't getting enough attention and started a cat-and-mouse written correspondence with the police.  That led to him being caught and arrested.  He will live the rest of his life in prison.

Katherine Ramsland has devoted her writing life to studying the darker side of human nature.  She had advanced degrees in forensic psychology, criminal psychology, criminal justice and philosophy.  She has worked with some of the most well-known names in serial killer law enforcement such as John Douglas, Gregg McCrary and Henry Lee.  She has, in this book, been able to reveal Rader's fantasies and demonstrated the extent to which his dark thoughts made up his world, even as he seemed innocent and trustworthy to those he met.  This book is recommended to readers of true crime.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Hidden by Kendra Elliott

Eleven years ago, Lacey Campbell went through a horrific period in her life.  The Co-Ed Slayer was attacking and killing women at her Oregon State University campus.  He targeted and killed nine women before he was captured and put in prison for life.  One was Lacey's best friend.  Lacey barely escaped and was instrumental in putting the killer behind bars with her testimony at his trial.

Lacey has turned her life around since then.  She has become a forensic odontologist at the state forensic examiner's office and is recognized as a professional.  In that role, she is called out one morning to help with the discovery of a woman's body underneath an apartment building in snowy Portland.  She is shocked when she realises where she has seen the dental appliance found in the victim's bones.  It is that of her best friend whose body was never found after the night she was kidnapped and Lacey so narrowly escaped.  Further tests in her lab confirm that these are the bones of her friend.

The skeleton is found at an apartment building owned by Jack Harper.  Jack was a policeman until a tragedy left him injured and unable to continue.   Now he has taken over the realty and development company his father started and is an eligible bachelor and man about town.  He is pulled into the investigation because of his connection to the locale and the fact that a badge found at the scene belonged to his ex-partner.  An ex-partner who has just been gruesomely murdered.  New murders start occurring and they all tie back to the Co-Ed Slayer.  Did police get the wrong man?  Is the Slayer still out there and taking revenge?  Is Lacey his next target?

Kendra Elliott has written a fast-paced thriller that throws Lacey and Jack together in a race to find the killer before he finds Lacey.  They are a good team and romantic sparks soon fly.  Readers will be swept along in the action and rooting for Lacey and Jack.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Drop by Michael Connelley

Harry Bosch's long career as a police detective is winding down.  He has just been informed that he's been granted a three year extension on his request to remain past retirement.  He is working in the Cold Case division with a partner, Cho, for the last two years.  Harry doesn't care.  He just wants to work cases.

He and Cho are given a case that morning.  An old murder has had a DNA hit.  Blood has been found on the belongings of a murder victim from twenty-one years ago.  When the two men look up the DNA's match, they find it belongs to a convicted rapist.  Easy win.  But then it turns out that the man only raped young boys.  It also turns out that at the time of the murder he was only eight years old and thus unlikely to be their man.

On the same day, Harry is called upstairs.  Irvin Irving was a policeman who was forced out.  He then ran for city councilman and won.  He has since spent his life making life miserable for the police department he now despises.  But today he has requested Harry.  Irving's only son has been found dead as the result of a fall from a hotel balcony.  Was it suicide or was he pushed?  Irving dislikes Bosch but he knows Bosch is about the best at what he does.  He insists he wants to know the truth and Harry is assigned to discover it.

This is the seventeenth Harry Bosch novel.  In this one, Harry struggles with the winding down of his career, the new responsibility of raising a teenage daughter by himself, and as always, with his relationships inside the department and in his personal life.  Readers will be caught up in the police procedure and the workings of a master detective's mind.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Faithful Place by Tana French

Twenty-two years ago, Frank Mackey had it all planned out.  He was getting away from his dysfunctional family and the place he grew up where he would never be anything more than the son of a drunk who beat his wife and kids.  More importantly, the love of his life, Rosie Daley, was coming with him and they had a bright new life planned.  They'd never be able to be together in Faithful Place, Ireland as her family was totally opposed to her dating a Mackey.

But something went wrong.  When Frank went to their meeting place, Rosie never showed.  He went to their backup place and found a note, apologizing for the fact that she was disappointing him.  Crushed, he decided to head out anyhow.  He got himself to Dublin and found work.  As soon as he could he joined the police and carved out a life and a career for himself there.  In twenty-two years, he's never looked back.  He has cut off his entire family without a word except for his sister who also lives in Dublin.

Then he gets the word.  A suitcase has been discovered in the derelict house at the end of the street in Faithful Place.  That's the place that was his and Rosie's backup meeting place.  Against his better judgment, Frank heads back and meets his brother there to show him the case.  He realizes it was Rosie's and soon Frank has discovered a body in the house.  It seems that Rosie never dumped him that night like he thought.  Someone prevented her from leaving.

The police in the area want none of Frank's help.  But he can't leave this case alone.  He knows people who will talk to him although they would never talk to the police.  He knows the backgrounds and the environment that bred the crime.  Most of all, he knows his family and the Daley family. Even though he is considered a traitor on the street for joining the police, the families there will talk to Frank when they will talk to no one else.   Frank is determined to get justice for Rosie but can he live with that justice?

Faithful Place is the third Tana French novel.  She has won numerous awards such as the Edgar, the Irish Book Award for Crime Fiction and the Macavity.  She writes about the men and women who make up the Dublin Murder Squad, and an interesting concept is that a minor character in one novel may be the main narrator in the next.  This novel, told in Frank Mackey's voice, portrays a man who wants to do right but is constantly fighting the barriers his early life and family ingrained in his character.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

I'll Take You There by Wally Lamb

Felix Funicello is an Italian-American who grew up in the 50's and 60's.  His childhood claim to fame was his family's connection to the famous Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, a cousin.  Felix had a typical Italian-American family.  His father runs a diner, his mother stays at home but helps in the diner with the books.  He has two sisters.  Now, Felix is a 60-year-old man, divorced with one daughter, Aliza, whom he loves desperately.  He is a professor on film and runs a movie club in his hometown.

One night while getting things ready for the club's evening viewing, he has the experience of his life.  Although there have always been rumors that the old movie theatre is haunted, Felix never believed in that kind of thing.  Now he encounters two ghosts, the most visible the ghost of the famous female director of the Twenties, Lois Weber.  She now seems to be directing the story of Felix's own life and he is the first viewer.

Lois takes him back to his childhood and helps him to view the dramas of his life through the eyes of an adult rather than those of the child who was confused by what was happening.  His family encountered family secrets that were kept from the children and mental illness.  The secrets eventually came out and the family exploded as each individual resolved their own attitudes toward it.  As Felix looks back, he sees the family secret against the backdrop of feminism as women redefined what a woman could do and be.  The early pioneers like Weber may be forgotten but their legacy will be the changed way society looks at women.

Lamb concentrates in this novel, as in most of his novels, on the connections that make up our lives.  He explores the concept of family and what we will do for our family members.  The poison of family secrets and the damage they cause when finally exposed are highlighted.  The changing relationships between men and women are another focus of this book.  The reader will realize that our family is who we claim as family and that what is important in life is how we treat family and maintain our connections with them.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and family relationships.