Saturday, September 30, 2017

In The Cold Dark Ground by Stuart MacBride

Things are even more chaotic than usual in Aberdeen, Scotland and Sergeant Logan McRae is right in the middle, torn between conflicting factions that all want a piece of him.  The overlord of crime is dying and for some reason, he has picked Logan out as his successor and wants to leave him a fortune.  Of course he doesn't care that the police would look unkindly on a policeman who gets money from organized crime.  A businessman has been found murdered in the same fashion as several others and the case brings on the big guns of the force all hoping for glory; McRae's old boss, Roberta Steel, takes over the case and drafts Logan on her team and a Superintendent from the location of the other murders has also worked her way onto the team and seems to instantly dislike him.  Then there is the fact that the nursing home insists that it's time that he release his girlfriend from the five year coma she has been in.

In the midst of negotiating these choppy waters, Logan is called into Professional Standards, where he has spent time on the carpet over the years.  But this time is worse.  They suspect that Steel has used her position to frame a criminal and they want Logan to find out what's going on and testify against her.  Can he really go against the woman he's worked with for years, even if she has been a thorn in his side for all that time? 

This is the tenth Logan McRae novel and fans of the series are always ready to spend time with him.  All Logan wants is peace and quiet but his expertise and flashes of intuition have always made him a star in the service.  Now add in the fact that even organized crime recognizes his skills and you have Logan torn in a thousand directions.  This book is recommended for mystery readers who will wait anxiously for Logan's next appearance. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory

They were The Amazing Telemachus Family and in the 60's they were poised to make it big.  Teddy, the patriarch and Mo, the mother, met when the government was exploring the use of psychics in the Cold War against Russia.  Mo was the real deal and Teddy was the consummate con man.  They fell in love and married and the kids came along.  Irene was a human lie detector who could sense if someone was lying.  Frankie could move things with his mind while Buddy could tell the future.  But after a televised debacle, the family never made it big.

Decades later, things aren't going so well.  Mo died when the kids were still small, her talent no match for cancer.  Teddy's career as a card shark vanished when he got mixed up with a mob figure who turned on him.  Irene can't keep a job or a relationship as there is falsehood all around and she sees it every time.  Frankie hasn't moved anything with his mind in years and now doubts if he ever really did.  Buddy has never moved out, rarely speaks and spends his days building contraptions in the house and yard.  What happened?

But Teddy never gives up.  He meets Gabriella in the supermarket and falls in love.  The fact that she is married and to the son of the mobster who was his enemy is a minor setback.  Frankie has a scheme to get back the money he lost and pay off the mob he borrowed from.  Irene's son Matty seems to have inherited Mo's talent and is just now realizing he can teleport wherever he wants to go.  When the mob comes after the family for all their annoyances, can they pull together one last time to save the family?

Daryl Gregory has written an engaging tale that stretches across the decades and has the reader cheering for them to finally break out and make a difference.  The characters are convincing and the slow reveal of their love and ability to pull together makes for a charming read.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Names Of Dead Girls by Eric Rickstad

 Twenty years ago, Frank Rath came home to a sight that would define his life.  He found his sister and her husband, horribly murdered and savaged.  Upstairs, he finds his baby niece, crying in her crib.  Since then, his life has been focused on raising that girl, the girl he calls his daughter, Rachel. He gave up his career as a detective in order to focus on what was most important.   The man who committed the crime, The Preacher, was found and convicted.

Unbelievably, Preacher has now been granted parole.  He calls Rath to taunt him, to remind him that he has returned to this same small Maine town, and to threaten to make himself known to Rachel who is now attending college nearly.  He claims that Rachel is actually his daughter and that he wants to claim her as his own.

Rath is determined to prevent Preacher from getting anywhere near Rachel.  Over the years, he has gone back to detecting on a consultant basis when the crime was too much for the small law enforcement office in the town.  He agrees once again to return until Preacher can be sent back to prison.  Some murders of young girls have occurred and more have occurred over the border in Canada.  Everyone suspected that Preacher had been active with more murders than had ever been tied to him.  Is this his chance to rid himself and his daughter of their nemesis?

This is the third novel in the Frank Rath/Sonja Test police series.  The central fact of the series is the horrific murders of Preacher and he is the kind of character that keeps one awake at night.  The pace is breathless, the chapters short and choppy, racketing up the tension from page to page.  This is a series I'll continue to follow.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Beneath The Bleeding by Val McDermid

It's a new experience for Dr. Tony Hill.  He is laid up in the hospital after surviving an attack by a patient at the mental hospital in which he works.  Having taken an ax blow to the knee, he is not going anywhere for the next while.  But crime goes on regardless.  Bradfield police are in the spotlight as they attempt to solve the murder of Robbie Bishop.  Bishop is a local lad who has made it into the big time of a professional football team where he is the star.  When he is poisoned by ricin and dies, no one knows who would have done this.

Chief Inspector Carol Jordan is in charge of the Bishop investigation.  She visits Tony when she can as they have been friends for many years.  But being friends doesn't mean they never disagree.  When Tony insists that he believes a serial killer is at work, Carol puts his theory aside, assuming that he is seeing conspiracy where none exists, due to drugs and boredom.  When Tony finds more cases of poison, she starts to agree that they have a serial poisoner on their patch.

While the investigation is in play a horrific event occurs.  The football stadium where Robbie played is blown up and it appears to be a case of terrorism.  Carol and her team are adamant that everything else must take second place as the case of thirty-four deaths takes priority.  However, the country's anti-terrorism unit arrives and takes over the bombing, causing hard feelings wherever they go.

This is the fifth Jordan/Hill novel in this series.  McDermid has not settled for a conventional romantic relationship between her two protagonists as each has a lot of personal baggage and challenging careers they put first in their lives.  The complex mystery and its unfolding keeps the reader's attention until all is solved.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Booksie's Shelves, September 17, 2017

Mid-September and fall is starting to arrive.  The temperatures are not as high and the humidity has taken a break.  The early trees have started to turn and mums are at every store.  Football is back, both college and professional and I spend a LOT of time watching football.  In our family, September is the month of celebrations.  In the span of three weeks, we have my husband's birthday, my son, daughter-in-law and two of the grandkids along with my son's anniversary.  It does heighten the sense that we live so far away but I'm grateful for the times we share with them.  I've been using the library which I have no business doing with all the books here but it's hard to go and not pick up a book or three.  Here's what has come through the door lately:

1.  The Welcome Home Diner, Peggy Lampman, women's lit, sent for book tour
2.  A Woman Is A Woman Until She Is A Mother, Anna Prushinskaya, essays, sent by publicist
3.  The Names Of Dead Girls, Eric Rickstad, mystery, sent for book tour
4.  Good Me Bad Me, Ali Land, thriller, sent by publicist
5.  Call Of Fire, Beth Cato, fantasy, sent by publicist
6.  The Flying Man, Roopa Farooki, literary fiction, purchased
7.  Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh, literary fiction, purchased
8.  Ban This Book, Alan Gratz, literary fiction, sent by publicist

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel, hardback
2.  In The Cold Dark Ground, Stuart McBride, paperback
3.  Spoonbenders, Darryl Gregory, hardback
4.  The Names Of Dead Girls, Eric Rickstad, paperback
5.  Beneath The Bleeding, Val McDermid, audio
6.  Golden House, Salman Rushdie, Kindle Fire
7.  The Bear And The Nightengale, Katherine Arden, Kindle Fire

Happy Reading!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Fact Of A Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

The facts are grim and undeniable.  In the first week of February, 1992, in the rural town of Iowa, Louisiana, Jeremy Guillory, six, goes next door to see if his buddy can come out and play.  The man who comes to the door, Ricky Langley, tells Jeremy that his buddy is gone but will be back soon.  Does he want to come in and wait?  Jeremy knows Ricky who rents a room from his buddy's parents and who has babysat for him and the couple's children so he goes in.

Later that day his mother, Lorilei, goes out and calls Jeremy to come in for supper.  He doesn't respond, so she goes next door.  Ricky comes to the door and tells her he hasn't seen Jeremy.  She goes to her brother's house close by but they haven't seen Jeremy either so they call the police.  A massive search ensues, lasting for three days.  But the search will find nothing because Ricky Langley killed Jeremy in the first minutes after he entered the house.  He stored his body in his bedroom closet, wrapped in blankets and a garbage bag.

Years later, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich comes to Louisiana as an intern at a firm that handles Death Row appeals.  The case she is given to help with is that of Ricky Langley who was sentenced to death at his trial for the murder of Jeremy Guillory.  Although she has spent her life opposing the death penalty, she is amazed to find that her overwhelming response is to agree with the verdict and wish for the death penalty to be applied.  What causes this emotion which seems to contradict her core beliefs?

The author then delves into the backstory of both Ricky and her own family.  The central truth of her childhood is that she was molested for several years by her maternal grandfather, abuse that her family denied and shoved away.  That denial shaped her childhood and made her determined to find another life that the one she had led to that point.  She was also traumatized when she found out that she wasn't a twin, but a triplet with one sibling that didn't survive for long and wasn't mentioned in the family.  Ricky's childhood started with a family tragedy; a car wreck that killed two of his siblings and put his mother in the hospital for months in a full body cast.  On a home visit, she is somehow impregnated and that was Ricky.  No one believed it was possible so his mother continued to receive massive amounts of medicine and painkillers.  The doctors wanted to terminate the pregnancy when it was finally discovered as they thought there was a high chance of birth defects but the parents refused and Ricky was born.  Was this the reason that he started molesting children when he was nine or ten?  No one will ever know.  Ricky was always a strange child who didn't have friends and was the odd one out in the family dynamic.

Ricky's first trial is overturned and he actually receives three trials before he is finally sentenced to life in prison.  The author follows the trials and the surprising fact that Jeremy's mother testified for the defense in the second trial because she didn't want the death penalty.  As the author uncovers more and more of Ricky's troubled life, she also delves into her own family's troubled lives and states the question of how do we fix the point in time when a story begins?  With Ricky, did the story start when he murdered Jeremy or did it start when he was born with so many counts against him?  How responsible was he as he asked for help multiple times that he didn't receive?

This is a chilling book that raises many questions for the reader.  How do we overcome tragic events in our lives?  Can we push the damage aside and emerge whole?  What is the role of choice, or more simply, nature vs. nurture?  This is a compelling memoir that will leave the reader thinking about these issues long after the last page is turned.  This book is recommended for true crime readers as well as those interested in memoirs about overcoming obstacles.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Marco Effect by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Things are chaotic as usual in Department Q of the Danish Police.  Detective Carl Morck, who has turned his disgrace and banishment to the basement as the man in charge of cold cases, is torn between two women.  Assad, his assistant with the air of mystery, has just returned from a case that left him injured and in need of rehabilitation.  Rose, the cranky secretary who wants to be an investigator also, has taken up with a young detective who is clueless but has connections upstairs.  Worst of all, the head of the detective bureau is leaving and his replacement has never liked Carl at all.  His first act is to send Gordon, the clueless one, down to be a new member of Department Q and to report back to him everything Carl and the crew are doing.

Marco Jameson is a fifteen year old boy who wants more.  More than his life as a con man and thief, part of a gypsy crew that is let off downtown each morning to pick pockets and steal from anyone they can.  His uncle, Zola, is the head of the clan but that blood relation means nothing to him.  He views everyone as mere tools to help him get more money.  He even cripples one of the young girls in the crew to make her a suitable beggar.  When Marco stumbles upon the grave of a man he is sure Zola has killed, he sees his chance.  He runs away and tries to find a way to contact the police.

In the meantime, Carl is caught up in a case involving a missing man.  The man had gone on a trip for his bank to Africa where they were administering a grant to provide aid.  But his trip had gone sour and he had returned a day later and then disappeared.  What happened to him and why was he gone?  Carl works the case and suddenly it becomes clear that Marco holds the key.  Department Q springs into action to find Marco but it's soon clear they are not the only ones trying to find him.  The others want nothing more than to kill this inconvenient witness.  Can Carl and crew find Marco before his enemies can?

This is the fifth novel in the Department Q series.  Carl, Assad and Rose are the same supposedly incompetent investigators that manage to solve the cases that everyone else has given up on through sheer determination and spite.  The addition of Gordon, whose youth, naivete and attraction to Rose define him, is a development that can provide new avenues for the group.  This book is recommended for readers of mystery novels.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Underground Airlines by Ben Winter

Imagine the world if Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated before the Civil War.  This is the world of Underground Airlines.  In this alternate world, no war happened.  In order to honor Lincoln's desire for a united America, a compromise is hammered out in Congress with slavery remaining an option.

Move forward to the present.  Slavery is now down to four states, known as The Hard Four.  The rest of the country abhors what is going on there and refuses to buy products from those states, although foreign markets have no such reluctance.  In forty-six states, African-Americans are free to live a life like anyone else, to work the job they want, live where they want, love and marry whom they choose.  In four states, by luck of the draw, their brothers and sisters have none of those possibilities.

The reader joins the story as Victor has received his latest assignment.  He is a man who spends his life capturing runaway slaves, knowing that they will be returned to servitude.  Almost unbelievably, Victor is himself a former runaway.  He is invaluable to the Marshals whose job it is to capture those who have escaped as he can work his way inside the underground organizations set up to aid escape.  Why would he do this?  Because it is the only way he is allowed to remain free or semi-free, a tool with an implanted tracking device.

Victor's latest assignment is Jackdaw.  He gets the scent and is fairly sure that he will be successful in finding him and exposing another network.  But something is wrong, something is different about this assignment.  As he discovers what is going on, Victor sees an opportunity to finally break free of his job and live the life he always wanted.

This novel has received a lot of praise.  It was a Goodreads Choice finalist as well as being named one of the Best Books of 2016 by outlets such as NPR, Kirkus Reviews, Amazon and Publisher's Weekly.  Winter's depiction of this alternate history slowly reveals layer after layer of the pain and degradation that slavery inflicts on its victims.  It is especially timely today when racist organizations seem to be mounting an attempt to become strong and viable.  This book is recommended for science fiction readers as well as literary readers.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Burial Hour by Jeffery Deaver

They call him The Composer.  He kills in a way designed to extract the maximum amount of unique sounds from the victim and his surroundings.  His method of execution always involves a noose in some manner and usually some form of extended suffering for the victim.

The timing couldn't be worse for Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs.  After years together, they are finally about to be married.  This is a far cry from back when Rhyme was the head of Forensics for the NYPD and Amelia just another cop.  After the accident that left Rhyme a quadriplic, he had to refocus his life and the thing that took the longest in his recovery was believing that there was any way romance could still be a part of his life.

The two manage to almost catch The Composer and save his latest victim.  Fearing Amelia whom he calls Artemis after the beautiful huntress of mythology, The Composer decides to change locations.  Soon, stories of similiar victims start to emerge from Italy, Naples to be exact.  The entire Rhyme household picks up and moves their detecting activities to Italy.  They have to fight Italian politics and turf wars as well.  Amelia finds a new sidekick in a forestry agent who has wanted to move over to the police.  Can this crew find The Composer before he writes his next murderous composition?

This is the thirteenth novel in the Lincoln Rhyme series.  This one was not my favorite and the plotting seemed a bit looser than in earlier books in the series.  Still, Deaver is a master writer and this one is a page-turner as are all his novels.  This book is recommended for mystery writers.

Friday, September 8, 2017

A Writing Journey by Caitlin Hamilton Summie

A few weeks ago, I reviewed the amazing debut anthology of Caitlin Hamilton Summie.  Here's a brief piece about her journey as a writer:

I started “writing” when I was small. My mother tells me that I’d bring stories to her to read, scribbles across a page, before I even knew how to actually form letters, so she’d ask me to “read” my stories to her.

I was a storyteller even then, and even at that age I was always taken seriously by my parents. No condescension, no laughter.

I remembered their treatment when I stepped in to teach my first and only college class, a semester of creative writing. I’d been told not to expect much from my students, but I knew how I had been once. On my first day in class, I began by asking, “How many of you have written a novel?” Three hands shot up.

Family support is so critical to the budding artist. Institutional respect is as well.

Given the respect I received from my parents, it’s no great leap to see the rest: the novella at age 13, two novels completed before age 18. Perhaps the greatest leap then is the first book at age 48, pleasantly late.

But so much in my life has been late. Among the last to be married. Mother at 37. I seem to squeak in under the wire. The stories in my collection, some written as along ago as 1992 and taken out to be dusted off and tweaked, have been waiting for their moment to emerge to the public.

Maybe the story of my publishing journey will give other yet-to-be-published writers hope. Maybe it will remind teachers not to assume. Maybe it will remind parents how important it is to simply support.

Some things are worth waiting for. My whole family is celebrating my first book with me, not only my mother and my father, but also my husband and my son and my daughter, all of whom, like me, waited, hoping. I still remember the look on my son’s face when I announced I had had a short story accepted. Was it relief? I believe so. I remember the small smile of pride on my husband’s face when he realized my book had been accepted. I still remember the way my young daughter listened with great seriousness and yes, respect, as I talked about my writing. She knew I was entrusting a hope to her.

On publication date, oh, our celebration will be joyous. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Before The Fall by Noah Hawley

Nine people get on a private jet for a short half-hour trip.  Four are a family; the father the head of a news channel, the wife staying home with the children who are a girl who is nine and a son, four.  The father is the person who owns the plane.  Two are a couple who knows the family.  The husband of this couple is big in investment banking and maybe about to be indicted for shady practises.  Then there are the crew; pilot, co-pilot and stewardess.  There is security man who travels with the family at all time due to threats.  Then  there is Scott, a painter who has met the wife and taken her last-minute invitation to ride with them and avoid the ferry.

Just a quick trip.  But sixteen minutes out, something goes wrong and the world changes forever.  The plane crashes.  Scott somehow survives and after minutes of searching, finds that the son has also survived.  He manages to get them both to shore by swimming all night with the boy on his back.  A hero, everyone says.

Now the craziness begins.  No one is sure what happened, not even Scott.  His memories are piecemeal and come in small flashes.  Several government agencies are involved in the investigation and without the plane and bodies, their work is just guesswork also.  With the father being a huge media presence, there is even more publicity and press than would usually happen.  With no facts to be had, speculation and rumors are rampant.  Will the truth emerge?

Noah Hawley has written an amazingly readable novel.  It received the Edgar Award for 2017 for the Best Novel as well as the 2017 Thrillers Award for Best Novel.  Most readers will know the author best as the creator of the hit TV series, Fargo.  The interplay of the characters and slow revealing of the mystery through the backstory of each individual character draws out the tension and suspense.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.