Sunday, October 31, 2021

Gone To Dust by Matt Goldman


Nils Shapiro is going through a rough patch.  He is still getting the breakup of his marriage, something not helped by the fact that he and his ex-wife are still meeting and sleeping together at times.  His private detective business is just chugging along with nothing exciting on the horizon.  All of that changes when a friend of his, detective Anders Ellegaard calls to ask Nils' help.

A woman has been murdered in Anders' jurisdiction.  Maggie Somerville's body was found in her bedroom covered with the dust of hundreds of vacuum cleaner bags.  The dust means no forensic evidence will be forthcoming.  There seem to be a couple of suspects.  There's the ex-husband, with whom Maggie shared child custody.  Maggie has a boyfriend, Andrew, who is a crude bully Nils has known since childhood when he bullied Nils and his friends.  Then there is the mystery woman.  The majority of calls on Maggie's phone are to a woman no one in her family or friends has ever heard of.  Who wanted Maggie dead?

Andrew runs a call center manned by Somali refugees.  It turns out that the FBI has an interest in the Somali community and has been using Andrew as a resource.  They want Anders and his police force to put the investigation on hold until their case is made and they expect Nils to do the same.  Will the men back down or will they find justice for Maggie?

Matt Goldman was a television writer before he started writing mystery novels, working on shows such as Seinfeld and Ellen.  This book is the first in the Nils Shapiro series.  Nils is an interesting character, caught up in his own life crisis but determined to bring the killer to justice.  He doesn't care much about what others think, even government agencies once he commits to a case.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Night Came With Many Stars by Simon Van Booy


Carol was only thirteen when her father lost her in a poker game.  Her father was a mean alcoholic who had a gambling issue and her mother died early.  For the next year, Carol spent the week with him cleaning and cooking and then on the weekend, going to the house of the man who won her and doing the same except with nightly rapes thrown in.

When Carol realizes that she is pregnant, she knows she has to get away.  In 1933, there isn't much of a social safety net so she decides to run away and hope that she finds a better situation.  Luckily for her, the man who picks her up on the road takes her to a refuge for unwed and abused women.  Carol stays there and has her baby whom she names Rusty.  Rusty has developmental issues but Carol loves him more than life itself.  Years later when Carol and Rusty move into town, she meets Joe.  Joe also had a rough start in life.  His mother also died and his father was imprisoned for stealing one chicken, leaving Joe on his own.  He does the best he can but is struggling by the time a neighbor family takes him in.

Together, Carol and Joe create a home and a family.  We read about their lives and family over the decades.  There is never much money but there is always love and loyalty to their family and friends.  Eventually the story goes full circle and Carol's grandson moves into the house that Carol ran away from all those years ago.  

Simon Van Booy has created a wonderful family epic that speaks to the lives of rural poor Americans in the Depression years and afterwards.  We see the effect that factory work had on the lives of the people and how they suffered as the factories closed down.  Those who were poor struggled to get an education or find work that would sustain their families while the institutions meant to protect everyone seemed to single them out for prosecution.  I listened to this novel and the narrator got the accent of the rural South dead on.  While there is much to be horrified at in this novel, the overall message is one of love and hopefulness.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Affinity by Sarah Waters


Margaret Prior is a Victorian woman recovering from a depression after her father's death.  Margaret is unmarried and considered the 'problem child' of the family as she is nearing thirty and it is uncertain how her life will unfold.  A minister for the family suggests that Margaret might do something for others and suggests that she become a lady visitor at Millbank prison on the womens' wards.  Margaret's mother is appalled but Margaret finds herself strangely attracted to the idea and agrees.

Millbank has a reputation as one of the worst prisons and Margaret soon finds out why.  Although the prisoners are not overtly mistreated physically, the conditions are grim.  The cells are cold and bleak and small and the women are confined in them most of the day, working on tasks such as picking coir or sewing.  The food is miserable.  But Margaret gets to know the women on her rounds and finds several of them are interesting or friendly.

The most intriguing prisoner is Selina Dawes, a medium.  Selina was imprisoned when a woman died after one of her seances in unclear circumstances.  Margaret scoffs at the idea of spiritualism but as she gets to know Selina she starts to question if it could be real after all.  Margaret has a history of attachment to other women so there is a physical attraction as well.  Soon Margaret is living for the days when she goes to the prison and sees Selina.  How will it end?

Sarah Waters has a talent for completely engaging the reader in the gothic environment she is writing about.  Her forte is the Victorian time period and this book does not disappoint.  The reader is slowly introduced to Margaret and her issues and then to Selina and the promises she holds out of more and better things to come.  The book is mesmerizing and the reader will be fascinated.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in gothic horror.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

The Coffee Trader by David Liss


The year is 1659 and the place is Amsterdam.  Michael Lienzo has come to Amsterdam as part of the exiled community of Portuguese Jews due to Amsterdam's religious freedoms and willingness to allow communities of differing religions to thrive.  Michael is a trader but is currently in debt due to a bad trade.  But he has a plan to corner the market on a new drink, coffee, which he expects could take the world by storm as more people discover it's stimulating and addicting properties.

But all is not easy.  Michael lives with his brother but they are not close and Michael suspects part of his business problems can be traced back to Daniel.  Michael has incurred the wrath of one of the most influential Portuguese traders who believes Michael lost him money.  Another man who lost money in the trade that left Michael in debt, blames Michael and is out to do him harm.

But Michael has friends also.  There is a Jewish lender, out of favor with the community but a good friend of Michael's.  There are allies in the marketplace including Issac who is helping him with the coffee importation.  Then there is the Dutchwoman, Geertruid.  Although it is forbidden for the Jewish traders to work with the Dutch, almost all of them do.  Geertruid is a widow who is also a businesswoman and she becomes Michael's main partner in the coffee scheme. 

But can Michael pull it off?  There are the quick changes of the marketplace to handle and he must be sure he has enough money in hand when he needs it.  There are betrayals and false rumors, those who would do him ill for past imagined wrongs and other businessmen who would end his plans just to line their own pockets.  David Liss has extensively researched this time and place and the reader will benefit from his knowledge, learning about Jewish customs, the social constraints of the time, the business of trading and how the Dutch created most of the mechanisms that still rule the market.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Monday, October 25, 2021

The Last Detective by Peter Lovesey


Peter Diamond has a murder to solve.  A woman's body has been found, nude, floating in a nearby lake.  There is no identity.  Diamond is a relative newcomer to the District, having been transferred after a former suspect was found innocent and suspicions that the suspect's confession had been coerced.  Now Diamond is in the smaller district of Bath and he isn't a comfortable fit.  Most of the police force was born and raised in the district and not sure about the newcomer.

After several days, the body is identified.  It is Gerry Snoo, known to the public for her character in a long-running BBC production but written out of the story two years before..  She had married local college professor Greg Jackman but the marriage isn't working out.  Gerry has her own circle of friends, a hard partying set.  Jackman is consumed with putting on a Jane Austen exhibition featuring her time residing in Bath and doesn't even notice his wife is missing for several weeks.

Diamond is an old fashioned detective.  He sneers at the technology available.  He believes that computers may be fast to compute but until someone has the time to do the data entry, unusable.  Forensic science holds lots of answers but the reality is that the tests take days or even weeks to get back.  The successful detective finds a way to get into the head of the suspect and find out the truth by getting a confession.  

It turns out that there are many possible motives.  Drugs seem to play a large part in Gerry's life and her entire personality had changed since her marriage.  There was a suspicious fire at the residence that Jackman claims was an attempt on his life.  There are previously undiscovered letters from Jane Austen that are valuable and missing.  Some believe that another woman had fallen in love with Jackman and sees Gerry as a rival.  Can Diamond cut through the fog and solve the mystery?

This is the first novel in the Diamond series which is currently at twenty novels.  Diamond is not a likeable figure but he would be the first to tell you that being likeable is not his job.  Although written as a fairly recent novel, the entire book has an old fashioned feel about it.  As a technology professional, it was engaging to see Diamond's diatribes against technology.  This book won an Edgar when it was released and is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Chosen Prey by John Sandford


Lucas Davenport is bored.  There haven't been many murders in Minnesota lately.  But be careful what you wish for.  Lucas decides to look into the most recent murder he finds, a case of a young woman who is strangled.  As he investigates he meets another lawman from a neighboring town.  Marshall is obsessed with one case; it is the case of his niece who was killed the same way.  The two men decide to work together and putting the two cases side by side leads to the discovery of a killer's graveyard.  There are many women buried there and each bears the same marks of a killer's chosen method of death.

James Qutar is an art professor.  While he has managed to stay away from his students, he preys upon other women.  His relationships with women start out normally but as they progress, he starts to torment the woman.  He draws erotic images of her and if they break up, he finds a way to distribute the pictures to cause her embarrassment.  If the relationship progresses, he starts to introduce pain into the sexual relationship.  If the woman isn't smart enough to get out at that point, he kills her.

Lucas, Marshall and Davenport's team gets closer and closer to Qutar.  Along with the case, the reader learns about Davenport's personal life.  A woman he was close with, Weather, has come back into his life and he is contemplating marriage and children with her.  This is the 12th book in the Lucas Davenport series and it is one of the better ones.  This book is recommended for readers of police procedurals.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

The Chosen And The Beautiful by Nghi Vo


This novel is a retelling of The Great Gatsby but with a twist.  All the characters are the same as are the main plot elements.  Jay Gatsby is the rich, fascinating tycoon with an air of mystery.  He loves Daisy Buchanan who is unfortunately married to Tom Buchanan.  Daisy's cousin, Nick Carraday, is a charming young man fresh from World War I.  Then there is Jordan Baker, Daisy's friend and Nick's romantic interest.

But everything in this book has been turned on its edge.  In addition to the romantic entanglements, there is now a queer element introduced.  Jay loves Daisy but he also loves Nick.  Jordan loves Nick but she also loves Daisy.  Jordan is the book's main character and the story is told from her viewpoint.  She is rich and moves in the top social circles, but is never quite inside.  Jordan is an adopted Vietnamese child who was brought to the United States as a baby and has grown up as a native.  But a different face and sexuality is never quite accepted at the top.  

This novel was a Most Anticipated Book of 2021 and a Best Of Summer Pick by many publications.  The writing is lush and tugs the reader along, anxious to see what this author has done with the classic tale.  Sexuality imbues the prose as the characters mix and match in different combinations.  Yet those familiar with Gatsby know that the ending is tragic while expected.  I listened to this book and the narrator was great.  My only quibble was that I didn't like Daisy's voice, which was hesitant and high-pitched.  It seemed a bad match with a woman whose overriding characteristic was her demand that her will be done.  Jordan's voice was perfect and the reader is swept along on a tide of passion and action.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Her Honor by LaDoris Hazzard Cordell


In 1982, Governor Jerry Brown named LaDoris Hazzard Cordell to be a judge on the Municipal Bench.  Cordell remembers her first ever case.  It was a small claims case and the participants were both African American women as was she.  The case concerned a claim of nonpayment for service by the plaintiff and the defendant claimed that the service, braids, was done sloppily and didn't deserve payment.  Judge Cordell had the women come forward and she checked the integrity of the braids herself.  Finding them lacking, she awarded the plaintiff a reduced amount and both women left satisfied. 

In 1988, Judge Cordell won election to the Superior Court and served there until 2001, rotating through a variety of assignments.  She discusses such topics as juvenile cases, marriage, divorce, custody, adoption and name changes.  She discusses juries and their decisions,  The judicial election process is discussed along with judicial misconduct and disagreements with rulings, which sometimes rise to the level of attempts to recall judges.  She discusses her time with rulings on mental cases, usually middle-aged women petitioning against involuntary confinement, or being forced into shock treatments or drugs with massive side effects.  Cordell talks about the three strike rule, it's disportionate effect on minority defendants and the whole plea bargain process which allows the courts to get through their huge caseload but often means innocent people plead guilty.  Cordell ends the book with suggestions on how the judicial system can be reformed.

I listened to this book and the narrator was Cordell herself.  Her voice was the voice one would think of as a judge's; dispassionate, calm and logical.  One of Cordell's main points was the effect that her appointment as a minority woman had on the defendants who were amazed to see her there and given hope that someone like them was overseeing the process.  The cases she uses throughout are fascinating and the reader will gain more understanding of the judicial process than they had starting out.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers, those interested in legal procedures and those interested in the story of a strong African American woman.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Matrix by Lauren Groff


The year is 1158.  The countries of Europe are mired in conflict but royal alliances abound between the countries.  There are only a few royal families so their influence spreads through intermarriage and wars.  The latest Crusade to recapture Jerusalem has failed; this one a disastrous attempt by women and children.  Marie is one of those from the failed Crusade.  She has returned, a child of sixteen but her mother died in the attempt.  Through various marriages, Marie is a half-sister of Queen Eleanor, a woman of grace and beauty.  Eleanor has some responsibility for Marie but when she sees the ungainly almost woman, tall and broad, lacking in all feminine wiles, she despairs of marrying Marie off, much less gaining more power through doing so.

Instead, a plan is made to ship Marie off.  She is to sent as prioress to a convent in England although it is unclear the extent or even existence of her religious belief.  It is an unpopular choice for all.  The existing nuns resent the intrusion of this teenager who will have authority over them.  Marie is appalled at the small convent where the nuns are slowly starving and dying of illness.  Eleanor is the only one glad, glad that she has managed to discharge an obligation at little cost to herself.

Marie spends the rest of her life at the convent, a long life extending into her seventies.  She finds that the convent is the perfect place for her to create a life and to build something that cannot be taken away from her.  She transforms the place over the years and decades into a thriving sanctuary where all are taken care of and where women and their dreams are allowed to exist and grow.  Although it was never her intent, Eleanor has indeed placed Marie into a place where she can bloom.

This is not the book most readers would have anticipated from Lauren Groff.  It is very different from her other novels yet shares an interest in women and their creativity.  It is a fascinating character study and an exploration of the ways women have managed to blossom over the years in settings designed to repress them.  It is a finalist for the 2021 National Book Award for Fiction and is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

A Distant Grave by Sarah Stewart Taylor


Long Island detective Maggie D'Arcy and her teenage daughter Lily are still grieving the death of Lily's father and Maggie's ex-husband recently.  Maggie isn't sure where life will lead them next.  She has fallen in love with an Irish man, Connor, but is it realistic to even think of a future this soon?  Maggie has returned to work and while it is familiar which is soothing, the nature of being a homicide detective is grueling and unlikely to provide much positive reinforcement to offset her chaotic personal life.

Then the news comes in that a man has been shot and killed at a local marina.  When Maggie and her partner Dave arrive there isn't much to go on.  He has been shot execution style and his personal effects such as his wallet and phone are missing.  There doesn't seem to be a car he was driving.  They don't know how he is and identification is the first order of the day.

But the victim's identity makes the case more puzzling than not.  The victim is an Irish man, apparently visiting the United States for some purpose.  What is he doing here?  Who did he come to meet?  Is the case about him or was he the victim of random gang violence as Maggie's supervisors believe?  When the bullet is matched to another gang shooting it seems clear but Maggie isn't sure.  She was already slated to go to Ireland on vacation and it's agreed she will coordinate with the Irish police to see what else can be learned about the man.

Maggie learns a lot.  The victim had several links in his past that could be related.  He had been kidnapped in Afghanistan along with several other hostages and rescued in a murky operation that could have left issues behind.  He had grown up as the son of an unmarried teenage mother which left its mark but more recently had discovered that he had an older brother in the Long Island area.  Did he come to meet his brother?  Did his past abduction leave issues?  As the investigation progresses, it is clear that whoever the killer is, he has turned his attention on Maggie and her team.  Can they solve the case before more tragedy strikes?

This is the second book in the Maggie D'Arcy series.  The first investigated another case with Irish ties and it is unclear where the next book might go as the ending is left purposely vague as Maggie must make some decisions about her life going forward.  Will she choose a new life in Ireland with the man she has come to love or will she stay in America and fight to keep her job and raise her daughter?  This book is recommended for mystery lovers looking for a new series.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The King Of Infinite Space by Lyndsay Faye


When Horatio gets a call saying that his best friend, Benjamin Dane, is in trouble he packs his bags and heads from London to New York.  The two met in college and have been best friends since although Horatio wishes that there could be more.  Benjamin's father has died a month or so ago and Benjamin is not dealing well with the blow.  He is a fragile sort at best and the ending of his relationship with his fiancee, Lia, had almost done him in.  Benjamin had an uneasy relationship with his father and when he finds out that his mother has married his father's brother within weeks of the death, it all becomes more than he can handle.

When Horatio gets to New York, he finds Benjamin in a bad way.  But he manages to get him to pull things together a bit.  But Benjamin has an idea that he can't let go.  He believes rather than his father having overdosed on purpose that he has instead been murdered.  But who would have done it?  His uncle, now stepfather?  Paul, who was his father's right hand man and Lia's father?  His mother?  A business rival?  Benjamin is determined to find out the truth and a gala given at the theatre his father started is his stalking ground for the killer.  Can he determine the truth?

This is a masterful novel.  It is obviously a retelling of Hamlet in modern times and what a retelling it is.  The characters are fully developed and each is intriguing.  The reimagining of the main character discovering his queer roots gives a new depth to the story.  The three witches are imagined as having  a New Orleans background and there is a figure that brings chaos wherever he appears.  The writing is fantastic and the pacing grabs the reader and takes them along on a terrifying ride.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.  

Thursday, October 7, 2021

The Guest List by Lucy Foley


The setting is spectacular for what should be the society wedding of the season.  Jules, the bride, is the founder and editor of an online magazine that reports on what is in and what is out.  The groom, Will, is the main character in a TV survival show and a celebrity.  They are both stunning in looks.  The wedding will be held on a remote island off the coast of Scotland.  Will's old school chums are coming.  Jule's best friend, Charlie, is coming with his wife.  This should be perfect.

But will it be?  As the guests gather, tensions start to emerge.  We get glimpses of the deadly secrets behind the scenes from a variety of sources.  There is Jules herself.  Aiofe is the wedding planner who has seen it all and owns the island venue along with her chef husband Freddie.  Olivia is Jules's little sister and is a neurotic girl whose life has been shattered by an event she won't share with anyone.  Hannah is Charlie's wife and not as excited by his friendship with Jules as the both of them are.  Johnno is Will's best friend from back in their childhood days at a strict boarding school that it's alumni refer to as a modern day Lord Of The Flies.

As the secrets emerge, the tension rises.  Will all the secrets be revealed?  Will their revelations spill over into violence?

This is the first Lucy Foley novel I've read.  It was exciting and the way the backstories were slowly revealed was enticing.  By the time the climax of the book arrives, it is difficult to see any other way it could have ended.  Foley worked as a fiction editor in her early career and has written several historical novels in addition to the mysteries she is now known for.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough


When you're a single mom, you don't get many nights out but Louise has just that tonight.  She is in a bar having a few drinks when she meets David.  They have an instant connection and before she knows it they are sharing a passionate kiss.  When she goes into her office the next day where she works as a receptionist, she is shocked to discover that David is her new boss, the new psychiatrist the clinic has hired.  Worse, he is very much married to the elegant Adele.

Louise can't afford to lose this job so she and David agree that last night was a mistake caused by drinking and that it won't affect their work.  A few days later, Louise runs into Adele while walking home from dropping her son off at school.  Adele is friendly and confesses that she hasn't made any friends.  Louise and Adele become friends although Louise knows it is a bad idea, especially when it becomes clear that she and David aren't going to be able to forget their first night.  Soon she is in an affair with David and is Adele's best friend.  How is she going to get out of this one?

Sarah Pinborough has written a psychological thriller that will instantly draw the reader in and refuse to let them go until they have read the last shocking page.  Each of the characters is caught in the triad of manipulation and secrets and it is almost impossible to determine who is lying and who is telling the truth.  The novel ends with a twist that I never saw coming and which makes this a memorable book that won't soon be forgotten.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Monday, October 4, 2021

The Abduction Of Pretty Penny by Leonard Goldberg


In this series, Sherlock Holmes left a daughter, Joanna, to carry on his work.  She grew up and married the son of Dr. Watson and together the two form a team to solve those mysteries which come their way with the assistance of Dr. Watson who is still alive.  Their newest case comes when the owner of the Whitechapel Players, the local theatre group, comes to Joanna to ask her to find their star actress, Pretty Penny.  She has disappeared and there is fear that she has been abducted.

Just like twenty-eight years ago, young prostitutes are being killed on the streets of Whitechapel.  Has Jack the Ripper returned to take back up his grisly task or is there a copycat?  Is there a chance that he could have Pretty Penny?  The investigation shows Penny had a wealthy suitor who insisted on remaining anonymous and that the pair had been quarreling.  Could he have done something to Penny?  Several doctors who work at the local charity clinic and who are also actors at the Players are suspects due to their surgical skills.  

The stakes are raised even higher when Joanna receives a letter that makes it clear that her son, Johnny, has been targeted by the serial killer.  The Watsons need to find the killer both to protect their son and to solve the mystery of Penny's disappearance and possible death.  Can they do so?

This is the fifth book in this series.  At first I was worried that I wouldn't like it since I love the original Sherlock Holmes stories so much but I was quickly drawn in and found myself entranced.  The characters are finely drawn and the premise is believable.  The setting seems very realistic and the author's research detailed.  I listened to this title and the narrator was cool and collected as the entire Watson team was.  This book is recommended for mystery readers and Sherlock Holmes fans.

At The Wolf's Table by Rosella Postorino


Rosa Sauer finds herself alone in war torn Berlin during WW II.  Her husband Gregor is off fighting on the Russian front and communications are few and far between.  Her parents have been killed in the constant nighttime bombings.  Food and other daily necessities are getting scarcer.  

Rosa takes up the invitation of Gregor's parents to come to live with them on their farm out in the country away from the city.  She decides to do so thinking that it will be a refuge from the daily reminders of the war.  But she is there almost no time when the SS come calling.  They inform her that she and nine other women have been chosen to become Hitler's food testers when he is in residence at Wolfsschanze, the Wolf's Lair which is his country retreat.

The women are taken to the residence three times a time.  An hour before Hitler eats, they must taste everything that will be served to ascertain if his food has been poisoned.  If they are all alive and not sick at the end of the hour, he is served.  Rosa is an outlier here.  Most of the women are locals and most have children and families.  They see her as an interloper and don't get close to her.  But there are others who would love to get closer to her.  Soldiers stationed away from home are always willing to find a new woman and Rosa gets her share of attention.  Can she survive until Gregor gets home or if the worst occurs, until the war is over and she can pick up her life?

This is an interesting historical fiction.  Rosa's story transports the reader to a time and place very unlike their daily lives and asks the question what would one do in order to survive?  Are marriage vows to be honored when each day could be your last?  What will you do to provide for those around you who are dependant upon you?  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.