Saturday, August 31, 2013

Gallows View by Peter Robinson

Chief Inspector Alan Banks has just moved North from London for a quieter life.  Crime in Eastvale, in the Yorkshire district, isn't as brutal or common as in his former job, leaving more room for his marriage and family.  But things have been heating up lately in Eastvale.

First, there is the Peeping Tom.  Blonde women have been his target, and several have caught him spying on them as they change clothes and get ready for bed.  Then there are a series of break-ins.  Those seem like teenage crimes, with vandalism thrown in along with the robberies.  Finally, Eastvale has seen a murder.  An elderly woman apparently opened her door at night to the wrong person and ended up dead.  Banks has his work cut out for him.

Then there are the family complications.  He and Sandra have a strong marriage, one that can accommodate his hectic work life and his sudden enthusiasms.  His latest passion is opera, but no one else in the family can stand the music that he plays constantly.  A more serious issue is the lovely psychologist the department has hired to consult on the Peeping Tom crimes.  There is an immediate attraction between her and Banks, and he isn't sure how to handle it.

Gallows View is the first Inspector Alan Banks mystery in Peter Robinson's long running series.  Readers will recognize him from the BBC series about his cases, and will enjoy reading how the entire series got started.  The crimes are run of the mill, until they suddenly come together in a stunning climax.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Execution Of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth Silver

Ten years ago Noa P. Singleton committed a murder. Her current location is Death Row, mere months before her scheduled date of execution. Noa was a bright woman, who was salutatorian of her high school class, and offered scholarships to college. Although she was raised by a single mother who was more interested in men and her own well-being than Noa, she seemed well on the way to making a successful life for herself.

Then something went awry. Noa dropped out of college after one semester and has spent her life in meaningless jobs. At her trial, she didn't say a word in her own defense, and she has never talked about her crime or its victim, Sarah Dixon. Now, she receives a visit. Oliver is a newly minted lawyer, and he is determined to save Noa, if only she will tell him what really happened.

Noa isn't fooled. Oliver is there only as the catspaw of Marlene Dixon, Sarah's mother and the woman totally determined to see Noa dead. Her testimony at Noa's trial was probably the main reason Noa got the death penalty. Now Marlene is holding out the promise of filing a clemency motion with the governor to save Noa's life, if only Noa will talk.

Elizabeth Silver has created a memorable battle of wills between two strong women. Noa is a character the reader will long remember; her story slowly revealed giving the details of what really happened the day two young women lost their lives. This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Human Remains by Elizabeth Haynes

They are everywhere, in large cities and small villages.  They are women, men, young, old, black, white, rich or poor.  The unseen ones.  The people who for whatever reason are all alone in the world.  If they have families, they are out of touch with them.  They walk through life as if they don't exist.  Those who work with them occasionally pass a comment but they aren't included in office parties.  They don't have clubs or nights on the town.  Instead, they go home to silent houses where they spend their time waiting for that night and the next day to pass, just as all the days before have passed.

But in Annabel's town, a killer has noticed the unseen.  Annabel is a police analyst, and she is the person who notices that there have been too many unexplained cases of people who have died in their homes and not been found for quite some time.  There is no one to miss them; those who barely notice them have assumed the person has moved when they stop appearing at work or in the shops.  Most of the cases have been put down to natural causes, but that is the killer's delight.  He manages to target and victimize these individuals without laying a finger on them.  He gains their trust and talks them into dying; just refusing food and water until they pass away.

But now the killer is upping the ante.  He is determined to gain the recognition he so richly deserves and he finds that his past actions no longer satisfy him.  How will he change to gain even more excitement from the deaths that surround him?

Elizabeth Haynes has written a chilling mystery that will have the reader afraid to put down the book, afraid to stop before they know what is being done and how it will all turn out.  The killer is a new kind of criminal, more horrific for his calm demeanor as he wrecks havoc around himself.  This book is recommended for mystery readers who enjoy psychological suspense.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Prodigal by Michael Hurley

Aidan Sharpe is one of the best lawyers in Raleigh.  When opposing counsel walk in and see him behind the defendant's desk, their hearts sink, as Sharpe has the ability to make juries see things as he does and rarely loses a case.  He is the primary practicing partner at one of the most respected law firms, and is highly compensated.  Life is his for the taking.

But things are not going as well as they seem.  His marriage fell apart a few years ago and he has been hesitant to form another relationship.  Trials are too easy these days and he is starting to phone it in.  His drinking is getting out of control.  Then comes the ultimate moment; one moment when a bad choice takes away everything he has worked for all these years.

Stunned, he flees to Ocracoke Island, the most remote island on the North Carolina Outer Banks.  It takes a lot to live on Ocracoke, and those who manage to survive there are not too quick to worry about other people's sins or judge them too quickly.  Aiden moves in with the priest who has watched over the island for years and starts to rebuild his life.  He spends his days now doing manual labor at the local boatyard, his friends a collection of other individuals who are also looking for a way to survive.

There is Father Marcus, who was shipped to Ocracoke for his deviations from church theology and his personal issues.  Ibrahim is fleeing from his past, but the best ship worker Ocracoke has seen in years.  Bobbi is fleeing a bad marriage and her addiction to alcohol and men.  Molly is a tugboat captain, determined to make it in a man's world.  Sarah is, well no one is sure what Sarah is.  She washed up on shore nude several years ago.  Father Marcus watches over her, but she remains a remote figure who speaks to few and is closer to fewer. 

Together this group of individuals learn to support each other and work towards finding redemption.  That redemption may come from a surprising source.  They discover a sailboat floating as scavenged goods; it has apparently been floating in the ocean for several years.  It is an amazing boat, obviously an ancient one built with care and love.  Is it the mystical Prodigal that is the source of so many legends over the years and can it help this group find themselves as they attempt to win a race that means everything?  The race is small against large, islanders against those with money and power, a race to prove that character means something even in boat races.

Michael Hurley has written a fascinating look at the issue of flaws and redemption.  Ocracoke Island is the perfect setting for the characters to find themselves; the land itself has to rediscover and reclaim itself all the time as the ocean attempts to overwhelm it.  Readers from the South will be especially pleased to read about this North Carolina treasure.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in the chance to start anew, regardless of what has come before.  Hurley lives in Raleigh, NC, and is quickly on the way to becoming another North Carolina treasure. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sworn Sword by James Aitcheson

The year is 1069, the location England, three years after the Battle of Hastings.  The Normans won possession of the kingdom that day, but even three years later, not all the land is subdued.  Tancred a Dinant, a sworn sword, or knight, pledged to a lord, fought at Hastings.  He saw the carnage there and the slaughter of all the men that occurred that day as the English usurper, Harold Godwineson, was defeated and killed.

Tancred is sworn to Robert de Commines, and has been for more than fifteen years.  Robert found him in Normandy where he had fled a monastery at age thirteen.  He pledged his life and sword to Lord Robert that day, and has fought at his side ever since.  He followed Robert to England and plans to stay with him forever.  But fate has different plans. 

The English are rising up in the North, desperate to throw off the Norman yoke.  They are led by yet another English king.  The two forces meet in Durham and Lord Robert is killed.  Shocked and disillusioned, Tancred is not sure what to do with the rest of his life.  When he is injured and sheltered by another Norman lord, Malet, he agrees to serve him.  Malet gives him an assignment; to shepherd his wife and daughter to London to safety. 

Along with his knight friends, Tancred sets out to escort the women.  They barely make it out of town before the opposing forces take the city where Malet is in charge.  Although Tancred wants to return and fight the English, he is sworn to his task.  While fulfilling it, he learns a secret; a secret that reeks of betrayal and could change the course of history.  How will Tancred reconcile his calling as a knight with his torn loyalties?

James Aitcheson has written a stirring historical novel.  It is strong in its depiction of the life of a knight and how battles were fought in this early period.  Life was finely balanced in those days, and the loyalties a man chose were often enough to either make his fortune or cause his death.  The history is well researched, and the reader readily identifies with Tancred and his band of knights.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Conspiracy Of Faith by Jossi Adler Olsen

Things are much the same in Department Q in the Copenhagen Police Department.  Detective Carl Morck is still the grumpy policeman shuffled off to the basement and given cold cases to solve; cases no one expects he can make progress on.  His assistants are the same ragtag bunch of misfits.  Hafez Assad, hired as a janitor and an immigrant whose papers wouldn't stand much scrutiny, is overqualified for his job and sees connections no one else does.  Rose, a policewoman so hard to get along with that she has been given to Carl, does what she does, mostly nothing with occasional flashes of brilliance.

The latest case couldn't be much colder.  Department Q is given a message.  Apparently it was found in a bottle.  The bottle drifted to Scotland, where someone found it and put it on a shelf.  Years later, the message was taken out and it was determined to be a plea for help from someone who claimed to have been kidnapped.  This message, at least a decade old, is now Carl's job to decipher and decide if a crime has been committed.

Thus opens one of the most challenging cases the department has ever seen.  As they work on the case, they determine that indeed a kidnapping had taken place.  Two children, one a brilliant young man, had been kidnapped.  The gifted man had written the note.  Only one returned home.  The crime was never reported.  Even worse, as the case is unraveled, it soon becomes apparent that this was not a solo crime.

There is a serial killer working in the murky underground.  He targets fundamentalist religious families, who typically have large families.  His plan of attack is to kidnap two of the children then demand a ransom.  Once the ransom is paid, he kills one child and returns the other, saying that he will know if the crime is reported and will return to kill more of the children.  The terrified families tell their friends that the missing child has broken religious laws and has been excommunicated and sent away.  The killer has struck over and over through the years and it is up to Carl, Assad and Rose to stop him.

Jossi Adler Olsen exploded on the crime scene several years ago with this series.  Readers are quickly entranced with the characters and the mysteries that twist and turn, but eventually are solved by Department Q's unconventional methods.  This third mystery is another stellar contribution to the rapidly expanding field of Nordic noir.  A Conspiracy Of Faith is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Luther, The Calling by Neil Cross

Luther is the kind of detective you definitely want on your side if a crime has been committed.  He is brilliant, intense, totally dedicated and he won't give up until the criminal has been brought to justice.  These same qualities make the people around him nervous.  His wife, Zoe, worries about his health and stress levels and the marriage isn't good these days.  His commander worries about what Luther will do to bring justice and which day he steps over the line might be his last. 

London needs Luther's skills badly in the newest case.  A man is targeting perfect families.  He wants a child of his own and is convinced a child from a perfect family is the best bet.  There are a series of home invasions where he takes the child and leaves the entire family behind dead.  His latest target is an eleven year old child, Mia.  He has her but as the net tightens around him, he threatens to kill her rather than lose his freedom.  Can Luther and the rest of the squad find her before time runs out?

Fans of the BBC America TV series, Luther, will be thrilled to see that Neil Cross has brought his creation to the printed page.  The reader is taken inside the police investigation and the nerve-ratcheting suspense that a major investigation creates.  They are also taken into Luther's life and learn what it is to be the best in a job that is slowly ruining everything you love.  The pace is heart stopping and the reader can't help but cheer on this tormented man who is the best at what he does.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Domestic Affairs by Bridget Siegel

Olivia Greenley can't believe her luck.  Her good friend, Jacob, campaign manager for Presidential candidate Landon Taylor, has recommended her to be the new chief fundraiser.  It is Olivia's dream job.  Taylor is her perfect candidate; a man who is in politics to make things right and whose campaign she would be honored to work on.  She is overjoyed when she is hired, especially at the knowledge that she is the youngest chief fundraiser around.

As the campaign progresses, Olivia spends hours each day on the job.  She moves from fundraising event to event, hobnobbing with the rich and famous.  Her job is to convince them to lend their support in whatever fashion they can.  For some, that is hosting an event and committing to raising at least two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.  For others, it is loaning the campaign private jets or picking up tabs for luxury hotels and amazing meals.  Above all else, it is her job to convince everyone she meets to give money, tons and tons of money.

The weeks fly by and the campaign progresses.  Olivia discovers the truth of political campaigns; the staffers are paid almost nothing and expected to work pretty much around the clock.  Dream candidates don't seem quite so dreamy when you spend all your time with them and learn their secrets and personality flaws.  Still, one can't give up the perfect job, can one?

Bridget Siegel has written an entertaining political insider's view of a campaign.  She is a veteran of several campaigns herself such as Kerry-Edwards, Obama-Biden, Hilary Clinton and others.  She raises the questions of whether American politics demands too much of the candidates and if it is possible to remain pure in politics.  Is the entire system flawed?  This book is recommended for those readers interested in politics and what the electoral system does to the participants. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Mr. Monk Helps Himself by Hy Conrad

Fans of the TV show Monk will be thrilled to read another of his adventures in Hy Conrad's latest novel, Mr. Monk Helps Himself.  In this one, Monk's assistant, Natalie, has decided its time to make a name for herself.  She is about to take the private investigator's exam and when she gets her license, she and Monk will form a partnership where they will be peers instead of him always calling the shots.

But events get in the way.  One of Natalie's heroes, self-help guru Miranda Bigley, commits suicide publicly in front of her audience.  Natalie is sure it can't really be suicide, since that is opposed to everything Miranda taught, but everyone else thinks Natalie just can't face the truth.  Monk won't help her as he is involved in a case with the police.  A clown has been killed.  Clowns are high on Monk's list of his top one hundred phobias, so he is determined not to engage, but the police are adamant.  Monk determines the clown was involved in some dirty dealings that probably led to his death, but continues to try to avoid the scene or anything having to do with the victim.

Hy Conrad has written an engaging, lively mystery that falls on the cozy end of the mystery genre, one of the reasons the TV show enjoyed its huge success.  Monk's obsessions and foibles are front and center, and readers will enjoy the interplay in the relationship between him and Natalie.  The mysteries are satisfactorily solved, with the logic so plain to Monk and so hidden from others.  Hy Conrad was one of the original writers on the TV series, staying all eight years of the show's run and serving as coexecutive producer for the last two.  No one could write a more valid Monk mystery than Conrad.  This book is recommended for mystery readers and fans of the TV show.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

When Pandora goes to pick up her brother, Edison, for a visit, she doesn't recognize him when she sees him at the airport. Edison has put on several hundred pounds since she saw him and is obese. Pandora knew he was down on his luck; that's the purpose of this visit, to give him time to regroup as well as time for them to catch up. But she had no idea about the weight gain or the changes in Edison's personality that the weight had made.

Edison is a jazz pianist, or as Pandora finds out, was a jazz pianist. Her husband, Fletcher, is not happy with the visit. He makes high end furniture and is a food fanatic; one of those people who watches every bite he puts in his mouth and is prone to fad diets; gluten free this week, a raw diet next week. He is totally repulsed by Edison, even more as Edison cooks huge meals, uses up all the food in the house and expects handouts. After two months, Fletcher puts down his foot. Pandora must put Edison back on the plane to New York if she wants to maintain their marriage.

But Pandora sees someone in need, someone who needs her more than Fletcher and her two stepchildren. She makes a deal with Edison. She will move in with him into an apartment and together they will go on diets. She estimates that it will take Edison a year to lose the extra weight and is willing to keep up this lifestyle for that period of time.

Lionel Shriver has linked into the issues that we all have surrounding weight. The obese are easy targets, and sometimes feel that they are the last minority group it is safe to discriminate against. She also covers the issues of body image, family relationships, and what one will do for a family member. She covers all the diets and the realization by one who loses a great deal of weight that it is an accomplishment, but not one that can make a life. Readers will find this a thought-provoking read that will make them examine their own attitudes about weight and self-image. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in family relationships.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins

In Battleborn, Claire Vaye Watkins shares the West with readers.  This is not the West of glitz and glamour.  It is the West of the desert, of unrequited longings, of lives that just don't seem to go anywhere.  It is the West where people must be strong to survive, but survival doesn't always mean successful.

There are ten stories.  The locales differ, but all have ties to the West, especially the desert.  There is a story about two brothers who are caught up in the Gold Rush.  Another is about a man who manages a brothel in Nevada, and the boy who comes there every day while he waits to see if his friend who is lost in the desert is rescued.  Two sisters fight the residual effects of their mother's suicide, trying to carve out lives for themselves that rise above her despair.  Three friends visit Virginia City as they decide what their friendship means and if it will endure.

One of the most chilling stories is the first, called "Ghosts, Cowboys".  It tells the story of George Spahn, a farmer from Pennsylvania who came to California and bought a farm that was used by many of the famous Western movies as a movie set.  After it fell out of favor, Spahn let a group of hippies who followed a leader called Charles Manson move in.  The rest of the story is well known, the crimes the Manson family committed iconic features of the seventies.  Paul Watkins was Claire Vaye Watkins's biological father, although she was raised by an adopted family.  He was also one of Manson's main followers his role recruiting teenage girls to join the cult.  The knowledge of what he did influenced her life, as it would any of us.

Readers will long remember the stories in this novel.  Watkins writes fiercely, telling the story of those who dare to have the strength to survive and the mechanisms they employ to do so.  She also tells the stories of those who fall by the wayside, not able to overcome the blows of fate that come their way.  This book is recommended for readers who enjoy short stories, and those who are interested in fresh new voices that will be influential for many years to come.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Fiji by Lance and James Morcan

The year is 1848, and a ship is making its way to the land of Fiji.  On board are two missionaries, Susannah Drake and her father, determined to bring the word of God to the Fiji natives.  Nathan Johnson is also on board bound for Fiji, but his purpose is not to save the natives but to trick them into trading him goods that will make him immensely rich.  Nathan has had to make his own way in the world and he has learned to look out for number one.  He is attracted to Susannah, but her father finds him crass and shelters his daughter from Nathan.

When the ship arrives in Momi Bay, the missionaries move into the mission house built by the missionaries they are replacing, while Nathan goes to the tribe's village to strike a deal.  He is pleased to get the terms he wants, trading muskets to the natives in return for sea slugs, a delicacy he plans to sell in China for a large profit.  While dealing with the natives, he finds himself trapped in the village when the Qopa tribes' enemies, the Outcasts, attack.  The Outcasts are just that, escaped slaves and those who have committed crimes against the tribe.  They are headed by Rambuka, a son of the Qopa chieftain who was shunned for attempting to kill his brother so that he could become the chief one day.

With Nathan's help and that of his muskets, the Qopa managed to repel the Outcasts, but not without losses.  The chief is killed, and the new chief, Joeli, vows revenge on his half-brother, Rambuka.  Nathan is also injured and as he is nursed back to health by Susannah, his feelings for her, and hers for him, grow, although neither is willing to admit to their love.  Suddenly, tragedy strikes again.  Rambuka stages a raid and kidnaps Susannah.  He has already kidnapped many tribal women and a band of Qopa and Nathan are determined to track them down and rescue the women.  Can they find their women before they are killed by the Outcasts?

Lance and James Morcan have written a stirring adventure.  Their research into the customs of the Fiji culture are evident.  There is cannibalism, firewalking, shark calling, amazing hairstyles, and tribal warfare techniques.  The clash of the native and English cultures is strange at first, but the men of each culture come to appreciate each other.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and those interested in how the island cultures handled life.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Love And Lament by John Milliken Thompson

Life is difficult in rural North Carolina in the years between the Civil War and the first World War.  People worked hard and didn’t have the material things that are taken for granted in modern life.  Families were large and people didn’t travel that much so family reigned supreme.  But change was coming.  These were the years that electricity started to be used, that cars started to jostle horses for dominance on the roads.  Indoor plumbing was another major step forward, and the economy was moving from that of agriculture to commerce and industry.  
John Milliken Thompson’s Love And Lament details the life of the Hartsoe family in the Piedmont region of North Carolina in these years.  The Hartsoes were one of the major families in the region; it’s men Civil War heroes.  Cicero Hartsoe came back to Haw County and ran a store.  He and his wife had nine children.  Life was hard but family was a recompense from God for the difficulties encountered.   

But the Hartsoe family seemed marked out for tragedy.  Mary Bet, the youngest, watches hopelessly as one by one, all her brothers and sisters are taken.  Some die from diseases that would be easily cured today, some in accidents.  By the time she is twenty, Mary Bet finds herself alone in the world, her only surviving parent in a hospital for life while she is left to make her way in the world. 

Mary Bet is an interesting character.  Although haunted by her family history, she manages to carve out a life for herself.  She moves and finds a job, living in boarding houses and then with roommates.  As the years go on, she is unsure if she will ever have another family, one of her own.  But regardless, she moves on and finds value in the life she is given to live. 

This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.  It is difficult for most people to imagine how different life in our country was just a hundred years ago, how isolated people were due to the difficulty of transportation and how reliant on family and friends each individual was.  For women to carve out a separate life for themselves in this environment was a definite show of character.  The reader will remember Mary Bet Hartsoe long after the last page is turned.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

River Thieves by Michael Crummey

The year is 1810 and life in Newfoundland is not easy.  It is populated by the fishermen and trappers who have settled there, and by the native Americans whose land it was before they came.  One of the most prominent families are the Peytons.  Peyton Senior has trapped and fished for many years.  He left his family life in England behind to make a life in this new country.  His son, John, is now grown and taking over the family businesses.  They also have a housekeeper, Cassie, who came as John's tutor and stayed after he grew up.

The British military is concerned about relations with the Native Americans.  There have been incidents on both sides; the Indians stealing items from the frontiersmen to discourage them, and retaliation that leads to violence.  The government decides to try to contact the remaining Indians and try to create a relationship with them.  In order to do so, they need the help of the men who are involved in the strife between the two groups. 

The novel details the lonely, difficult life each group leads while trying to survive in a bleak environment.  Communication is strained, and the results are more incidents as each group tries to emerge as the stronger.  A group of trappers mount an expedition into Indian territory and bring back a female captive.  What occurs on the expedition and the government's response to it will have far-reaching consequences.

Michael Crummey has written a fascinating historical fiction about life in a part of the North American continent many don't know that much about.  River Thieves is his first novel and is a winner of the Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award.  It was also a finalist for the Giller Prize, The Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Books In Canada First Novel Award.  Readers will learn about Newfoundland and the people who settled there from England and France.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Bones by Jonathan Kellerman

A teen doing community service at the marsh gets the call.  The caller says there is a body in the marsh, and indeed there is.  Selena Bass, a local musician, whose main gig these days is teaching a genius child of a multi-millionaire.  Milo gets the call and goes to the scene, but calls in his friend, psychologist Alex Delaware.

By the next day, things have gotten worse.  Not only is Selena's body in the marsh, but so are the bodies of three other women.  All killed the same way, all buried facing the east, all missing their right hands.  Someone has found a game to play and is using the marsh as their private playground.

Milo and Alex start to work the case.  They have a new cop working with them, Jack Reed.  Milo teaches him the basics of investigation as well as the politics of getting along and getting things done in a big city police force.  There are plenty of suspects to work on.  There's the environmentalist who seems to regard the marsh as his private property and would prefer if no human beings ever came there to disturb the local birds and environment.  There's a caretaker at the millionaire's house who seems a bit off, a bit worried by a police inquiry.  It turns out that Selena may have been mixed up in some offbeat pursuits of her own.  Can Milo and Alex solve this case before anyone else gets hurt?

This is the 23rd Alex Delaware mystery written by Jonathan Kellerman.  Readers will quickly see why he is considered in the top echelon of mystery writers.  Kellerman's own background as a clinical psychologist makes the medical theories ring true, and he knows how to racket up the suspense as few other authors can.  This book is recommended for mystery fans.