Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Dogs Of Winter by Ann Lambert

 It's winter in Montreal and that brings even more danger to the lives of the homeless.  When a young woman's body is found in a highway tunnel, the first thought was that she had been hit by a car and indeed that happened.  But she would have survived that accident if the person who found her had not been a murderer who then killed her by kneeling on her chest and suffocating her.  The woman had no identification but in her pockets are found two items that might help identify her.  One is a picture of her with a woman and the other is the business card of Detective Inspector Romeo Leduc.

Leduc doesn't know the woman and has no idea how she came to have his card.  He is busy with his own cases and this one is out of his jurisdiction.  But he soon comes to suspect that a killer is stalking the homeless, especially those with dogs, suffocating them and taking their animals.  He attempts to be involved in the case which spans several jurisdictions but he also has other things going on in his life.  His daughter is involved with a guy the detective doesn't like or trust.  His oldest friend wants him to help find his sister who disappeared several years before.  Most importantly, his romantic partner, Marie Russell, wants the couple to take the next step forward in their relationship and live together.  As the cases mount, can Leduc find the killer?

I listened to this novel, read by the author. Many think that authors are the worst readers of their work as the job requires specialized talents but I thought Lambert did an excellent job with the narration. It is evident that the areas she had written to be stressed were and her voice was a great one to listen to for extended times.

This is the second novel in the series.  Leduc and Russell are an interesting couple; she is 61,he is 51.  Russell is a college professor who used to be a marine biologist and is no shrinking violet.  She is determined that they will move forward but on her terms, in her house out in the rural country.  Although the couple seems to work, I found Marie to be demanding and ungiving in her expectations.  I liked Leduc much more but she provided him background to several issues that impacted his cases.  There were several alternate storylines going on in the novel such as sexual harassment/rape of a young woman in the workplace and a female entrepreneur who hides her crimes thinking it is for the greater good of female empowerment.  Overall, some of these miscellaneous threads could have been edited out to make a tighter story but I enjoyed the mystery.  This book is recommended for mystery and dog lovers.

Monday, March 29, 2021

All The King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

 This classic, published in1946, is a portrayal of political corruption, in this case that of Willie Stark, a rural lawyer who rose to become the governor of his Southern state.  Stark is modeled on Huey Long who had similar beginnings and political transcendency and the time period, that of the 1920s and 1930s is the same.  

But the real story is that of Jack Burden, a man who works for Stark.  Jack is a former journalist, a man who studies history.  He works as a fixer for Stark, a man who helps write the bills that Stark wants passed and then shepherds them through the legislature.  He works behind the scenes to eliminate potential issues and bend men to Stark's will.  

Burden grew up in wealth.  His childhood friends were the children of the governor at that time, who lived just down the street.  Ann was his first love and he assumed they would marry but once they both went off to college the romance seemed to die.  Burden's parent's divorced early in his childhood, his father disappearing and his mother caught up in a series of love affairs, the men getting younger and younger as she gets older.  Burden has a hard time finishing things.  He leaves the university without his degree when the thesis for his graduation led him to discover things about his ancestors he couldn't live with.  His own marriage lasts only a few years.  He spends his life learning that men can be easily bought and that the evil that they do will never disappear but remain hidden until someone comes along and unearths it.  It is a novel of betrayal and hard realizations.

This novel won the Pulitzer Prize.  It is an indictment of power and politics where the realization comes that decisions have consequences and that they will inevitably have to be paid.  It is a novel of hidden secrets and betrayals.  Jack learns that everything has a price and that you must be willing to pay the price for the decisions and deeds you do.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.  

Friday, March 26, 2021

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng


Family secrets are uncovered in the wake of a family tragedy.  The Lees are a Chinese-American family living in a small Midwestern town in the 1970's.  Marilyn was determined in her youth to become a doctor but once she met and fell in love with James in college, she put those ambitions aside.  James was the Chinese man who grew up feeling constantly like an outsider, his classmates rich while his parents worked at the school which gave him free tuition.  He has never believed his luck in attracting and marrying Marilyn even though her mother disapproved of their mixed marriage and is not part of their lives.

Three children completed the family.  Nathan is the eldest, about to head off to Harvard where he wants to study physics.  Lydia is the elder daughter and the favorite child, channeling her parents' ambitions. Hannah is the youngest, often ignored and who spends her time studying the family dynamics, hoping for attention.  

But they all are hiding secrets.  Both Marilyn and James try to relive their lives through Lydia.  Marilyn is determined that Lydia will break the gender barriers she failed to and will make her way to the top by her intelligence.  James wants a popular daughter to make up for his friendless childhood.  Lydia models their ambitions although she isn't sure what she wants.  She spends endless hours studying and doing academic work.  She makes up a large circle of friends, pretending to be talking with them on the phone and making up gatherings she never attends.  Nathan has to hide his academic successes and aspirations since his parents only have time to focus on Lydia.  Hannah just hides on the periphery, hoping for attention that never comes.  Will this family find a way to break through the layers and find each other?

This debut novel was chosen as an Amazon Best Book of 2014.  Ng explores the themes of hidden family secrets and the damage they do as well as probing relationships between individuals from different races, the gender disparity in workplaces and the need for family members to love each other as they are and be supportive.  The characters have good intentions but just keep missing each other's humanity and needs.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction focused on family relationships.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Indelible by Karin Slaughter


Sara Linton stops by the police office to see her ex-husband, Police Chief Jeffrey Tolliver.  As she walks back to his office she greets the other officers working there, the secretary who has worked there as long as Sara can remember and a group of schoolchildren on a school trip.  Suddenly, two men walk in and without much speaking, open fire.  Two officers are killed immediately and another is hunted down and shot.  Jeffrey is also shot, a shoulder wound threatening to take his life.

Outside, Detective Lena Adams is reporting back to work after a few years away.  She was the victim in a horrific crime and had taken time off, working security at a nearby college.  When no one else believed in her, Jeffrey did and he is willing to give her a second chance.  Lena is determined to do whatever she can to help the situation.

As the hostages huddle inside, there is little clue as to what the gunmen want.  Sara's thoughts drift back to the beginning of her relationship with Jeffrey and the time early in their lives together when he took her to his hometown.  They were trying to decide if they were serious about each other and Jeffrey wanted her to see where he came from and to meet his childhood friends.  But they walked right into a murder involving those friends and the strain of discovering the truth almost ripped them apart.  Now Sara wonders if this will finish the job of separating them forever.

This is the fourth book in the Grant County series and in my opinion, the best one so far.  The reader sees the beginning of Sara and Jeffrey's relationship and learns their backstory.  Jeffrey becomes a much more rounded character with his background revealed and it is obvious what brings the two together and makes it impossible for them to live apart.  As the hostage situation evolves, dark secrets from the past emerge.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard


Eve Black had an encounter at age twelve only a few individuals will ever have.  A serial killer broke into the family home and killed her mother, father and younger sister.  Eve escaped as she had gone to the bathroom when the man broke in.  She actually saw him as she stood at the top of the stairs but he made no move to kill her also.  He left, leaving behind nothing but questions for Eve.  Who was he?  Why did he choose her family to victimize?  Why did he leave her alive and kill the rest of her family?  The police put the crime down to the man known as The Nothing Man who had been attacking other families.

Twenty years on, the man responsible has never been discovered.  Eve grows up to become a writer and her first book is the story of her life.  It is an instant hit and even supermarket security guard Jim Doyle is drawn to the book.  But Doyle has a reason no one else has; he is the Nothing Man and this book could bring the retribution he thought he would never have to face.

Eve's book says she will never stop until she finds out who The Nothing Man is.  Doyle is determined to prevent her success and the only way he knows how to do that is to revert to the killer he was all those years ago.  He plans to kill Eve.  Will he be successful?

Howard was born and raised in Ireland where the novel is set.  She has had lots of different jobs and has written several other highly successful suspense novels.  I listened to this novel and there were both a male and female narrator.  This dual narrator use mirrors the two opposing stories that play against each other in the novel to make it suspenseful.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Lost And Gone Forever by Alex Grecian


Inspector Walter Day has been missing for over a year.  Most have given him up for dead but his wife Claire and his best friend, former Sergeant Nevil Hammersmith, don't believe that.  They firmly believe that Walter is out there somewhere still alive.  They are right.

Walter was kidnapped by Jack the Ripper and has been held by him in an underground chamber and tortured.  Then one day Walter awakes and finds his prison cell open.  Unbelieving, he finally clambers out to find himself in a part of London that is unfamiliar.  But location is the least of Walter's problems.  Outside of his first name, he doesn't remember anything about the time before he was captured, not his name, his family, his friends or his job. 

The Ripper has a plan.  He was also captured and tortured; his captors a group of vigilantes made up of some of the most prominent men in society.  Once he escaped, he captured Walter and started his plan of wrecking revenge.  He slowly picks off his captors one by one.  His master plan is to use Walter to get close to the man he holds most responsible and to have Walter carry out the assassination.  Will he win?

This is the fifth novel in the Scotland Yard's Murder Squad series.  The police characters are quite likeable and the reader finds themselves caught up in their lives.  I really like this series and have read all the preceding novels.  This fifth one ties up lots of loose ends while leaving enough cliffhangers to make a further novel in the series possible.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Fifty Mice by Daniel Pyne


Imagine that you are whisked away from your life to enter the Witness Protection program.  No more house you've painstakingly decorated, no more job you understand and maybe even love, no more friends you've known for years.  That's Jay Johnson's situation but with one twist.  He's been brought in as a witness to a murder and he doesn't remember anything about it.

He is whisked off to a safe house on Catalina Island which sounds nice until you can't leave.  He is housed with a woman and her daughter to pretend that they are a happy family but the woman is definitely not happy about it.  The girl is mute, a legacy from the crime they are running from.  

As Jay tries to figure out what happened the night of the murder and if he truly witnessed it, life goes on.  He is given a mundane job renting videos.  He goes daily to see a psychiatrist who tries to uncover Jay's memory.  He plots how to escape and get back to his life.

Daniel Pyne is well known in Hollywood.  He is a screenwriter of such movies as The Manchurian Candidate, Fracture and Pacific Heights as well as working on tv series such as Miami Vice and Alcatraz.  This is his third novel.  His work in a visual medium is apparent as the scenes are written in such a way that the reader can imagine how they would translate to film.  But the reader may find themselves confused for much of the book as they try along with Jay to figure out what is going on which makes things difficult to follow.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, March 19, 2021

The Ministry For The Future by Kim Stanley Robinson


This novel imagines solutions for the climate change that the author believes will stop life on Earth if not reversed.  It does so through two main characters.  Frank is a doctor working in India when an inversion creates a heat emergency that kills thousands; he survives but isn't sure why he does when so many around him do not.  Mary Murphy is the head of the Ministry For The Future, headquartered in Switzerland and charged with getting all the countries of Earth to work together to solve the climate crisis.

Over the years, these two characters intersect periodically.  Various methods of changing things are suggested; economic, individual saving, carbon credits and others.  These methods are enacted in the novel and over decades, we start to see first a standstill of the disaster then a reversal of the crisis.  These are sweeping changes; moving humans out of huge areas of land to let it go back to a native state and encouraging animals to breed, a worldwide currency based on carbon credits, massive governmental oversight of every aspect of life.  While the solutions suggested are far-ranging and hopeful in their effect, it is up to the reader to decide if they are realistic.

This is my first read of this author.  I found this novel to be somewhat of a slog with lots of preachy suggestions that I found unrealistic.  For one example, there is lightly thrown out that perhaps we need to have an optimum number of humans with the suggested range being two to four billion.  Since the world's population is currently almost eight billion, one is left to wonder who would be in charge of deciding which half of the population should be erased.  This book is recommended for readers of environmental science fiction.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots


Like many young women, Anna needs to have work to support herself.  Since she hasn't found a permanent career, she signs up with a temporary agency that specializes in supplying help to the villains that oppose superheroes and finds herself a low-level hench.  Even villains need help answering the phone, setting schedules, typing up notes, etc.  But her life changes the day her assignment is to accompany her employer, standing beside him as he gave a press conference so that there would be women in the crowd.

The biggest superhero in the world, Supercollider, breaks into the conference.  In his attempt to get to the villain, he creates havoc in the audience.  Anna is badly hurt but fares better than those who are killed by the falling debris.  After she gets out of the hospital and is recuperating, she gets laid off to add insult to injury.

While laid up, Anna starts to create a spreadsheet to stave off her boredom and pain.  She calculates the cost in both monetary terms and human pain and suffering that the antics of superheroes causes.  She is not surprised to find out that there is a cost but shocked at the enormity of it.  Soon she is obsessed with her project, researching all the heroes and the costs their antics cause.  

The biggest villain, Leviathan, hears about Anna's work and brings her on staff.  Now she has an entire division to help her with research and to devise ways to bring daily irritation to the heroes along with a plan to bring about their downfall by exposing the pain they bring along with their help.  She even finds herself becoming attached to Leviathan who is the scariest individual living.  When he is captured, Anna is in charge of rescuing him.  Can she do it and emerge unscathed?

This is a totally original, delightful read.  Anna is typical of young workers starting out and trying to find a way to make an impact.  Her skills and insight lead to her being able to break out of the ranks and rise to prominence in her organization.  It also probes the meaning of friendship.  Anna loses some friends along the way who can't handle what she does for a living.  She also makes new friends, one that she knows are willing to do anything to help her achieve her goals.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

House Of The Rising Sun by James Lee Burke


When we first meet Texas Ranger Hackberry Holland, he is in Mexico searching for his son, Ishmael.  Ishmael and his mother have lived a hard life, as a misunderstanding between Holland and Ishmael's mother, Ruby Dansen, left Ruby to raise their son on her own which wasn't easy in the years before World War I.  Holland was married to Maggie Bassett, a former madam and consort of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Holland wasn't sure how he ended up married to her and had been trying to find his way out but Maggie wasn't having it.  She did everything she could to break up his relationship with Ruby and she won that battle.

While Holland doesn't find Ishmael on his trip to Mexico he does find something else.  In a cantina out in the desert, he encounters a madam called Beatrice DeMolay.  She tells him that along with the massacred soldiers he has found, there are guns stored waiting on an Austrian gun dealer.  Holland searches the guns and finds what appears to be a religious icon.  He takes that with him, blows up the guns to keep them out of enemy hands and heads back to Texas.

That trip sets in motion the events of Holland's life in the years ahead.  Maggie leaves and Hackberry is alone on his ranch.  He continues to try to find Ruby and Ishmael but the trail is cold.  When Ishmael goes to fight in World War I, he comes home wounded.  In the meantime, the arms dealer whose icon Hackberry took all those years ago has never forgotten it.  He still wants it back and finds a way to take control of Ishmael from the hospital he is sent to for his wounds.  Hackberry knows it will take every ounce of strength and cunning he possesses to get Ishmael back.  Can he do it?

This is the fourth novel in the Hackberry Holland series.  I like the Dave Robicheaux series better but this novel was intriguing and the action carried the reader along.  Hackberry never managed to see himself as others did; he only saw his faults while others saw all his virtues.  He is totally loyal to those he considers family and friends and while he is violent it is usually hard to avoid.  This book is recommended for readers of thrillers.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

A Litter Of Bones by J D Kirk


The biggest case of DCI Jack Logan's career was his capture of serial killer "Mister Whisper" ten years ago.  Mister  Whisper targeted small boys and when he was captured, he confessed to the murder of three boys.  Logan was able to get him to confess where the bodies of two of them were hidden and return the bodies to their families but before he could get the information on the last boy, Mister Whisper was involved in an accident that left him in a mental hospital, uncommunicative.  Logan believes the man is faking his mental state and visits him periodically to try to get the location of the last boy's remains.

But now, another boy has been taken.  It's a hundred miles north of Glasgow where the earlier murders occurred but the case is so similar that Logan is sent north to head up the investigation.  Is this a copycat?  An admirer of Mister Whisper?  As the investigation turns up more and more similarities, rumors start to circulate that perhaps the man captured ten years ago wasn't the real Mister Whisper and that Logan may have gotten the wrong man.  Can he find the lost boy and find the killer before time runs out?

This is my first book by author J D Kirk but it won't be my last.  Logan is haunted by the past investigation and determined to do right by this new victim and those from the past.  His interaction with the new team is instructive as he picks out those detectives who show signs of promise and mentors them.  The writing has times of humor, reminiscent of other Scottish crime writers like Stuart MacBride.  This book is recommended for mystery readers and especially fans of police procedurals and Scottish noir.

Friday, March 5, 2021

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes


Two men from two very different worlds, pitted against each other in a race against time.  The Saracen is a radicalized Muslim.  His father was beheaded for daring to speak out against the government.  His son vows to take down that government and believes the best way to do so is to cripple the United States which supports his government overseas.  His plan is to become a doctor and then to manipulate the smallpox gene so that it can be introduced into the population with a one hundred percent fatality rate.

Fighting against him is the best man the CIA ever had in the field.  He has retired while still a young man but is brought back in to fight and defeat the man who has hatched this plan.  His name does not matter as he changes identities as often and easily as other men change their shirts.  He goes undercover to Turkey where a call between the Saracen and a woman has been intercepted to locate and stop him.  His cover is as an FBI agent who has come to investigate the death of a young tech billionaire.  While solving that case, he discovers that Saracen has moved further ahead with his plan than anyone had suspected.  Can he uncover the plot and find Saracen in time to avoid the thousands or millions of deaths his plot can kill?

Terry Hayes is a screenwriter and his work on framing stories in a taut visual manner pays off in this thriller.  Told from the alternating views of the Saracen and the man sent to thwart his plan, the reader is fascinated with the life stories and maneuvers of each man.  All the characters are finely drawn, even those in lesser supporting roles.  The action is suspenseful and perhaps timely in this time of pandemic.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

We Begin At The End by Chris Whitaker


In a small California town, a tragedy has long consequences.  A young boy, Vincent King, has a car accident and a local girl, Sissy Radley, is killed.  He gets a harsh judge who sentences him to ten years in prison and when a prisoner picks a fight with him, Vincent's sentence gets extended to 30 years due to the other man's death after the fight.  Now it's time for Vincent to come home.

There are many in the town who remember the accident as if it were yesterday.  The chief of police, Chief Walker, was Vincent's best friend and has never forgiven himself for testifying against him at the trial.  Star Radley was Sissy's sister.  Her life after Sissy's death was a spiral downward.  Now she has two children she can't take care of, Duchess and Robin.  Star moves from man to man, often abusive men.  She drinks and drugs and often there isn't enough food for the children.  Duchess who is thirteen, tries to take up the slack and give Robin a happy childhood.  She does the best she can but after all is only thirteen and can only do so much.  

When Vincent comes home, new events are put in play.  The children end up living with their grandfather who slowly works his way into their hearts and is a stable influence.  Walker tries his best to help Vincent integrate back into society but it's a hard road and Vincent doesn't seem that interested.  Soon he is once again suspected of a crime and now Walker must put aside his own feelings and investigate to get to the truth. 

This book has gotten a lot of positive press.  It is an Amazon Best Book of March 2021 and a number one Indie Pick.  The characters are finely drawn and the book explores the themes of family and what that means, of friends and loyalty and keeping promises even when they are hard.  The locale is California and Montana but the novel has a Southern feel to me.  This book is recommended for readers of crime novels with a literary overlay.  

I listened to this novel.  The narrator, George Newbern, does an admirable job.  He has a mellow voice that tells the story as if he were telling it on a front porch at dusk, rocking in a porch swing.  I would definitely listen to another of his performances.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Wolf To The Slaughter by Ruth Rendell


Two events occur in a small English town that seem to be related.  A bloody room has been reported by the owner; the man he rented it to nowhere to be found.  At the same time an heiress, the sister of an up and coming artist, has disappeared.  Has a murder occurred?  The woman seems to have tons of men in her life and it's not outside the realm of possibility that she has taken up with a bad one.  

Chief Inspector Wexford, Inspector Burden and Constable Drayton look into the disappearance.  There seems to be mystery surrounding a lighter which may or may not be connected to the case.  Drayton finds himself drawn to a witness and is soon dating her under the radar as he knows it is not allowable.  Her testimony if ever required could be brought into question if their relationship becomes known.  Wexford and Burden are more focused on the missing woman.  Her brother doesn't seem to be able to account for her whereabouts and isn't even sure if he should be worried.  But that room and all the blood...

This is an early Rendell novel, the third in the Wexford series.  He is still fairly undefined in this book although easily the dominant character in the police station.  Burden is judgmental as always but his skills complement those of Wexford.  Drayton is just starting out and has a plan to become like Wexford who he admires and wants to follow.  The mystery twists and turns and has an interesting ending.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.