Monday, April 25, 2016

Letters from a Serial Killer by Kristi Belcamino and Stephanie Kahalekulu

It is a true story, one of the most heinous of crimes resulting in the deepest of heartache.  I became friends with Kristi Belcamino through her role as the author of the Gabriella Giovanni crime/mystery series.  Kristi is a bright, joyful person with whom you immediately feel better about the world and its inhabitants.  And, she is this bright light, no deception there.  But, she carries a heavy burden inside, one that led her to write the fiction series, with the first book, Blessed Are the Dead, a direct link to the burden of experience that lies within her.  That experience is her encounter with Evil in the name of Curtis Dean Anderson, a pedophile, a kidnapper, a murderer.  The true account of that horrific experience is now available in the book Letters from a Serial Killer by Kristi Belcamino and Stephanie Kahalekulu, the aunt of Xiana Fairchild.  Xiana was abducted by Anderson in 1999, and both of these women corresponded with and visited Anderson to try and obtain information about Xiana, hoping to bring her home safely.  Below is a review of this heart-shattering book.  Whether you read Kristi's fiction series (which is an amazing series) or not, Letters from a Serial Killer is an important book you need to read.  Protecting children from evil is a responsibility we all share.

Letters from a Serial KillerLetters from a Serial Killer by Kristi Belcamino

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As hard as this true story was to read because of the monster at the center of the case, I can't begin to imagine how hard it was for Kristi Belcamino, along with Stephanie Kahalekulu, to relive and write. A pedophile who kidnaps and murders is the lowest of the low, the most evil of the evil, and to look this evil in the face requires a strength that few of us could muster.

Curtis Dean Anderson is the nightmare that every parent wants to believe is just that, a nightmare and not a reality. Kristi Belcamino, who was a crime reporter for the Contra Costa Times in the late 90s gained the knowledge of that reality when seven-year-old Xiana Fairchild went missing on her way to school in 1999 in Vallejo, California, a community across the bay from the city of San Francisco. At the time, Xiana lived with her mother and her mother's boyfriend in a rundown apartment in Vallejo, but it was Xiana's aunt, Stephanie Kahalekulu, who had raised Xiana, up until six months prior. Xiana's life with Stephanie was a good one, full of love. It is Stephanie with whom Kristi became friends in the long search and hope for finding Xiana alive. Kristi's newspaper coverage became more than a story for her paper; it became her life, all consuming. Stephanie's life, too, became a complete commitment into this living nightmare, as she uprooted her life and those of her two children from a peaceful, orderly one in Colorado to a chaotic, gut-churning one in California.

A break in the case came when Anderson was arrested for the kidnapping of another little girl, one who was fortunate to get away from him before he could end her life. With his arrest, both Kristi and Stephanie had renewed hope that Xiana would be found alive. So began a cat-and-mouse game that Anderson played with the two women, with them visiting him and corresponding with him through letters, hoping to gain information that would lead them to Xiana's safe return. Kristi, with her brilliant writing skills and emotional immersion, and Stephanie, with her heart-on-the-line descriptions, relay to us what horrors they endured in communicating with this Evil in the guise of a human. Hope and then despair, crumbs of information that led nowhere, demands that couldn't or wouldn't be met, heartache and grief. It was a trail of terror that led to the ultimate anguish.

It has been sixteen years since both women have dealt with this Evil and fifteen years since they discovered the truth about Xiana's fate from the grim discovery of her skull, and, yet, they deal with it every day of their lives. How can something this wretched not impact the rest of your life? Kristi and Stephanie have found their own ways of managing the torment within, and their bravery in bringing this important account to readers must be commended. Heroes do what must be done for the good of the world, and Kristi Belcamino and Stephanie Kahalekulu are heroes indeed.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Anthony Awards, Nominee Considerations, Reviews Part 7

There are only two weeks left until the ballots are due for Bouchercon Anthony Awards nominations, and I have a five more 2015 books I've reviewed that I want to ensure are given their due consideration.  Today's selections include two from Kristi Belcamino, Blessed Are Those Who Weep: Gabriella Giovanni Mysteries #3 and Blessed Are Those Who Mourn: Gabriella Giovanni Mysteries #4 from Witness Impulse (both Belcamino books eligible for Best Paperback Original); Away in a Manger: Molly Murphy Mysteries #15 by Rhys Bowen from Minotaur Books (eligible for Best Novel); Too Clever by Half: A Daviess and West Mystery #2 by Will North from Booktrope (eligible for Best Paperback Original); and Art in the Blood: A Sherlock Holmes Adventure by Bonnie MacBird from Collins Crime Club (eligible for Best Novel).

Blessed are Those Who Weep (Gabriella Giovanni Mystery #3)Blessed are Those Who Weep by Kristi Belcamino

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the third book of the Gabriella Giovanni series, author Kristi Belcamino gives us a quite different Gabriella. Although this amazing character is someone I quickly came to love in books one and two, Gabriella has from the beginning had ghosts and demons that tore at her happiness. She has the job she loves as a crime reporter on a major newspaper in the San Francisco area, and she has a partner who is the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with. But, hanging on to her past has cost Gabriella from fully believing in a happy-ever-after.

Family has always been important to Gabriella, and recent events in her life have made it even more so. Called to an apartment for what was termed by the caller the story of a lifetime, Gabriella stumbles into a murder scene, a family slaughtered. But in the midst of the carnage is a baby girl, unscathed, a survivor. Seeing this child brings up Gabriella’s grief about her miscarriage and starts her spiraling downward into a dark abyss. She becomes obsessed with the child and finding the person who slayed the child’s mother, grandparents, and uncle. Everything and everyone else in Gabriella’s life suffers in the wake. She becomes unfocused at work, unreachable in her relationship with Donovan, and unkempt in her physical appearance. She is the perfect metaphor for disheveled in every way.

Gabriella has always had a tendency for obsession, but in this story, obsession take a trip on speed. She is convinced that she knows who the killer of the slain family is, and she is committed to protecting the baby girl named Lucy from falling into anyone’s hands who might harm her. Although a mere ghost of her former self, Gabriella brutally pushes herself to find answers before a deadline of no return for Lucy. Even though her editor took her off the story due to her involvement, Gabriella digs deeper and deeper into a quagmire of cover-ups, a sex club, martial arts, and ties to the war in Iraq. In her determination to protect the surviving child Lucy, Gabriella throws caution to the wind more than ever and jeopardizes all that might save her in return.

Blessed are Those That Weep will have you wringing your hands in concern over whether Gabriella will survive with any semblance of a meaningful life. Kristi Belcamino knows how to do many things brilliantly as a writer. One of those skills is involving the reader emotionally, creating a vested interest that keeps the book in your hands, because you have to know how the characters fare in the aftermath of having their lives torn apart. And, it’s hard to find a better opening sequence than what begins the tale in Blessed Are Those Who Weep. Belcamino is a master at taking the reader quickly into the action and maintaining an intense pace all the way to the end. It’s safe to say that readers of this electrifying series will need a moment to catch their breaths when the last page is turned.

Blessed are Those Who Mourn (Gabriella Giovanni Mysteries #4)Blessed are Those Who Mourn by Kristi Belcamino

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You might think that having read the previous three novels in the Gabriella Giovanni series, you are prepared for almost anything. You would be wrong. Blessed Are Those Who Mourn takes living in a character's head to a whole new level. When you read this book, you will feel pain and suffering and hopelessness. You will fall into a hole so dark and deep, so filled with evil, that your heart beats wildly and your breath comes in ragged gasps. How do people cope with certain unimaginable events of horror? Following Gabriella Giovanni and Sean Donovan through this story will give you an insight that will give you some understanding of that.

Five years has passed since Gabriella and Donovan have had their lives and their love tested to the core in Blessed Are the Meek. Gabriella has recovered from the despair that had almost shut her down and has learned coping skills to deal with her past traumas. She and Detective Sean Donovan finally have everything they ever wanted. Five-year-old Grace Donovan is a beautiful, fierce child who has fulfilled every dream that Gabriella ever had about a family life with Sean Donovan. The nightmares of Gabriella's past have been replaced with happiness and love, but, evil isn’t finished with Gabriella Giovanni yet.

Still working as the crime reporter for the Bay Herald in San Francisco and Donovan still working as a detective for the Rosarito Police Department, it's not unusual for the two to be working the same case, so to speak. As young college women start showing up dead in the Suisun Bay area, there is an eerie and unavoidable common thread, Bible verses left with the bodies. Gabriella is all too familiar with these verses, and suddenly, the nightmares of yesterday have returned. Someone is sending a message, a message that if interpreted incorrectly will cost Gabriella her world. She will be called upon to find strength to battle an all-too familiar evil in the midst of all-consuming despair, and, of course, it wouldn't be a Gabriella Giovanni mystery if the ticking of the clock wasn't a driving force in Gabriella's fight for the right answers.

The hold that this story has, the very gripping claws of emotional involvement that the reader experiences is reading at its best. As in all the novels in this series, the action moves rather quickly, but it will not move fast enough for the reader. Blessed Are Those That Mourn makes a speed reader out of the slowest, something to which I can personally attest. The story can simply not be left to resolve the next day. It demands a full-on commitment as soon as page one is begun. So, clear your day or night to read one of the most engaging books you will ever cry your way through.

Away in a Manger (Molly Murphy Mysteries, #15)Away in a Manger by Rhys Bowen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was especially thrilled when I learned earlier this year that there would be two Molly Murphy books out in 2015, The Edge of Dreams last spring and Away in a Manger this November. I truly cannot get enough of Molly, her family, her friends, and the city of New York City at the beginning of the 20th Century. Rhys Bowen has gifted readers with a Christmas story bonus that I wasn't able to wait until Christmas to read. Having been lucky enough to receive an ARC, I even got in a bit early before the November 17th publication date. This series is such a favorite for so many readers, and fans will be delighted with Away in a Manger. It's Molly at her detecting best, clever and resourceful with a maturing confidence in herself and her abilities. The author's meticulous research is evident in the historical details of New York City coming into a new century, where the newness of motor cars is in high contrast to the struggling problems of the immigrants, especially the untended children of the poor.

Molly is preparing for Daniel's mother, the other Mrs. Sullivan, to visit for the Christmas holidays, and while running errands with her baby son and twelve-year-old Bridie, two young immigrant children catch their attention. Under-dressed and obviously underfed, the two children, whose names are Tig and Emmy, are brother and sister out on the cold streets trying to earn money, as are many children at that time. First Bridie, then Molly are drawn to these children in particular, the very young Emmy with an angelic singing voice and the well-spoken Tig. They are not the usual children of the street encountered. So, Molly is pulled in by her heartstrings and Bridie's concern to see that Tig and Emmy have some warm clothes and food. It, of course, gets much more complicated, with the mystery of their missing mother and an "aunt" who isn't really an aunt, who lets them stay at her boarding house, but only at nighttime. Molly is determined to find out who these children are and what has happened to their mother, and her best friends Gus and Sid become involved and enchanted with the two beggar children. Molly's investigation will take her from the dregs of society to the upper echelon of it, and will reveal a dark, twisted plan of greed and heinous acts.

And, there is Christmas. Molly and her mother-in-law have never been completely comfortable with one another, and the Christmas that Molly hoped would show Daniel's mother how happy Daniel was with his family turns chaotic. Even the steady Daniel presents a major problem with which Molly must deal. There is much to do to save Christmas for everyone, the Sullivans and the two orphaned children, and a happy ending seems a desperate reach indeed. Much is at stake for many in Maggie's latest challenge.

Great characters, fascinating plot, and Christmas magic. Rhys Bowen never fails to deliver a fascinating, thrilling tale. This Christmas season she gives readers a gift that is sure to please.

Too Clever by Half (A Davies & West Mystery Book 2)Too Clever by Half by Will North

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Will North has again managed to capture Cornish culture in a thrilling continuation of the Davies and West mystery series set in Cornwall, England. As the first book, Harm None, took readers inside the ancient world of witchcraft, wise women, and magic in the culture of the Cornish people, Too Clever by Half explores the acceptance and practice of Druidism in an area that is religiously non-conformist. Cornwall is such a rich source for ancient history and beliefs, and North continues to include the archaeological aspects of the history, as the major impetus for murder and mayhem. In Too Clever by Half, the discovery of an Iron Age underground cave full of ancient treasures, treasures that by English Treasure Act of 1996 must be reported to the local coroner's office to be determined if further government involvement was warranted. Archie Hansen, the farmer who makes the discovery of the artifacts on his farmland is more interested in a quick sale of the valuable items than a lengthy process in which he'd still get money, and even more money. Archie has plans, big plans, but they don't include the government.

The Lizard Peninsula is the part of Cornwall in which Too Clever by Half is set, although the story begins at sea, where a man's naked body is found floating face down. The Major Crimes Investigation Unit from Bodin is called in, so Detective Inspector Morgan Davies gets the nod to investigate. The Scene of Crimes Manager, Calum West, is on the case, too, in spite of the lack of said scene. The victim turns out to be the very farmer who discovered the ancient artifacts on his land, but that part of the story isn't known to the investigators until later. The first line of investigation is into Archie Hansen's role as head of the local Druid community, an interest that Archie shared with his companion, Charlotte Johns, who reported him missing, which led to identification of the floater. The Walter Scott quote aptly describes the story that unfolds from the discovery by Hansen to the discovery of the murderer, "Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive." Lies, adultery, and secrets create an atmosphere ripe for revenge for several different suspects, but who wants to settle the score the most? Who decides that murder is justified? Our dear Archie seems to have offended and mistreated many. It is indeed an untangling of motive and opportunity that Davies and West must accomplish if they are to clear the innocent and convict the guilty.

Throughout this novel and its predecessor, one of the aspects I enjoy most about North's writing is the witty repartee between his main characters and with those whom they converse. The conversations between Davies and West are, of course, the ones in which I take special pleasure. Their evolving relationship, both professional and personal, is revealed largely by these conversations, where West may be the one person to never become flummoxed by Davies, and, indeed, he possesses an understanding of where her sharp words come from and is more often than not able to reach underneath her hard exterior.

Having now read this second and most recent book in the Davies and West series, I am confidant that the series will continue to be a favorite. Will North takes full advantage of the amazing Cornwall as a setting, with stories and characters that well match the special place. The precise descriptions of the differing topography that is Cornwall makes North's stories ones in which a reader feels fully engaged. I'm looking forward to the new year and another Davies and West mystery in my reading queue.

Art in the Blood: A Sherlock Holmes AdventureArt in the Blood: A Sherlock Holmes Adventure by Bonnie MacBird

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Art in the Blood is a pastiche with one of my favorite characters, Sherlock Holmes, and is an engaging tale and a promising series that I'm looking forward to reading more of. One of the aspects of this book that is the best is the research of author Bonnie MacBird. She is genius at including all the sidebar items of history that make fiction sing for me. And, the reading of Art in the Blood isn't the end of those fascinating tidbits. It is simply a required part of this reading to visit the author's Web site and read through, listed by chapters, her illustrated annotations. I'm such a fan of authors going the extra mile to enhance the reading experience, and MacBird does that and then some.

This Sherlock tale takes place in Sherlock's rather early days, as he is 34 and is in the throes of a depression over his inability to bring closure to the Ripper investigation. Newly wedded friend Watson, having been preoccupied with his new wife and living arrangements, is distressed to find Holmes in a cocaine-induced stupor when he at last visits Baker Street. A solution to Holmes' state arrives on the heels of Watson's appearance in the form of a letter from Paris, a letter requiring the skills of Sherlock Holmes to even read it. The letter is a request for help from a beautiful French cabaret singer (is there any other kind of French cabaret singer), a Mademoiselle La Victoire, whose son is missing. To complicate matters, the son is the illegitimate child of an English Earle, who has been raising the boy as his and his wife's own.

Sherlock jumps into action with he and Watson running for the train to Paris. Of course, finding the child will be the easy part of this adventure. There is lost art, megalomaniac and ruthless men, murder most foul, long-kept secrets, more missing children and Sherlock's brother Mycroft all thrown into the danger that must be faced. Sherlock seems the only one who could possibly connect all the dots and resolve all the problems, but he himself will be tested like never before.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Publication Day and Reviews, The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King and Killer Takout by Lucy Burdette

Today is the publication day for two of my favorite authors and series.  The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King is the 14th Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes book in that long-time favorite series, and it lives up to every bit of hype that has been buzzing about it for months.  Killer Takeout by Lucy Burdette is the 7th Haley Snow, Key West Food Critic mystery, and it is more fun than murder really ought to be.  I was fortunate to read both of these books before publication date, so my reviews are already written and ready for readers to consider below.  The Mary Russell review is much shorter than my normal reviews because I simply couldn't give anything away if I wanted the reader to have the same amazing experience I had.  Haley Snow's review touches upon many aspects of the book, but there are so many more sweet surprises left.  So, Happy Birthday to these two fascinating books!

The Murder of Mary Russell (Mary Russell, #14)The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The title of this latest Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes is enough to make long-time fans, including me, of this series wring their hands and bite their nails. Murder of Mary Russell? Has author Laurie King lost her mind? Have fans not shown how much they love Mary? Well, there was nothing to do but read the book and hope for the best.

So, what to tell those who haven’t read The Murder of Mary Russell. I can tell you that Laurie King has written a brilliant book, one of the best in the series. There is so much of the unexpected and it’s all so beautifully written that I can only conclude Laurie is a genius. The characters are all cleverly written, creating a sustained interest in the scoundrels as well as the more admired, Mary Russell and her husband Sherlock Holmes. But, it is Mrs. Hudson who steals the show in this book. It so happens that Mrs. Hudson has a past, and, what an interesting past this quiet, efficient woman has. She didn’t just appear at 221 Baker St., a grown woman with no history. Her story is quite worthy of its own telling.

And, now I have to stop short of revealing the plot of this gripping story, as that would diminish the joy for others of discovering every savory, surprising tidbit that makes this book one of the best books I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The only final information that I dare impart is that there is blood, quite a substantial bit, on the floor of the parlor in the Sussex house shared by Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell, and Mary Russell is missing. Ready, set, read!

Killer Takeout (Key West Food Critic Mystery #7)Killer Takeout by Lucy Burdette

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hold onto your floppy hats, fans of Lucy Burdette's Key West Food Critic mysteries. It's Fantasy Fest week on our favorite island, where the wackiest of the wacky celebrations includes events such as the Zombie Bike Ride, the Tighty Whitey Party, the Pet Masquerade, the Tutu Party, and the Duval Street Parade where body paint is often a substitute for clothing. Key West is practically bursting at the seams with wall to wall people visiting for this wildest adult extravaganza, and crowds of uninhibited revelers aren't the only ones swirling. A possible hurricane is waiting off the coast of Cuba to join the party. And, Killer Takeout gives readers a front row seat to all the festivities.

While Haley Snow, food critic for the online Key Zest magazine is currently writing a lower key piece for the magazine on takeout food, due to the impossibility of doing restaurant dining-in during Fantasy Fest, she has plenty on her plate. Her mother has decided to marry her sweetheart Sam during this craziest of weeks in Key West, which has Haley dealing with arrangements that are challenging to say the least. Miss Gloria, Haley's adorable octogenarian houseboat roomie, has signed her and Haley up for the ending Duval Street Parade as parade ambassadors. Haley's co-worker at Key Zest, Danielle, is the Fantasy Fest Queen, so there are activities to attend supporting Danielle. And, she is covering some of the events for Key Zest, including the Zombie Bike Ride. All the while, Key West televisions are set on the weather station tracking the impending storm/hurricane.

With all the churning and twirling of celebration and storm, a murder is served, and, of course, Haley has her hands in the pie. Being observant and apparently blessed with good hearing, Haley hears a strange call from behind her in the Zombie Bike Ride. "Zombie down." The downed zombie isn't just down, but dead, and the victim, Caryn Druckman, is a runner-up to the Fantasy Fest Queen crown and the person Haley's friend Danielle recently had an altercation with. Haley rushes to Caryn lying in the street, but there is nothing she can do and nothing the victim tells her that can help before the paramedics take her away. Haley's boyfriend on the Key West Police Force, Detective Nathan Bransford, focuses on Danielle as the guilty party in the demise of the unpopular Ms. Druckman, but Haley knows that there's more to the story than a beauty queen gone bad. So, Haley does what Haley does best, starts asking questions and taking notes to clear her friend and find out who really had it in for the victim. So much is up in the air and out of control, and Haley is on a deadline to find answers before they're all blown away.

Every time I read a book in this series, I think it is the best one yet. They are all so much fun and full of the most animated, interesting characters that ever graced the paradise known as Key West. The author takes great care with all of her characters, whether they be a regular or performing a guest role. The dialogue is always fresh and lively, and shows that Haley maintains a sense of humor throughout her ups and downs. The food is always to die for. Well, it is. Even in the takeout menu items, there is no dearth of drooling over the meals. Lucy Burdette has a magical way of making this beautiful island come alive to readers, and I'm convinced that she is responsible for increased tourism. It's really hard to believe that Killer Takeout is the seventh book already in this series, but time does fly when you're having fun.

I was given a copy of this book by the author for review, and I guarantee an unbiased review has been given.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Anthony Awards, Nominee Considerations, Reviews Part 6

Adding a few more books for Bouchercon 2016 attendees to consider as you fill out your Anthony Awards ballot, due April 30th.  Today's selections include Malice at the Palace by Rhys Bowen from Berkley (eligible for Best Novel),  Come to Harm by Catriona McPherson from Midnight Ink (eligible for Best Paperback Original), Fate of the Union by Max Collins and Matthew Clemens from Thomas & Mercer (eligible for Best Paperback Original), and Fatal Reservations by Lucy Burdette from  NAL (eligible for Best Paperback Original).

Malice at the Palace (Her Royal Spyness, #9)Malice at the Palace by Rhys Bowen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Lady Georgie series by Rhys Bowen is one of the most enjoyable reads I look forward to each year. I know when I open a Lady Georgie book that all the boxes will be ticked. Great characters, witty dialogue, fascinating history, intriguing settings, and a story that keeps me reading into the night/morning. Humor, history, mystery. I'm in reader heaven! Rhys Bowen writes like King Midas transformed; everything is gold.

For those multitude of fans who already follow the adventures and misadventures of Lady Georgie, you know that the books usually start with Georgie being between living suitable living arrangements and direction for her life. Unfortunately, as a part of the royal family, even if 35th removed from the crown, she has certain restrictions on what is acceptable and not for her path in life. In Malice at the Palace, Georgie has returned from her Hollywood adventure in America and is temporarily staying at her friend Belinda's Mews Cottage. But, Belinda unexpectantly returns and Georgie must find new digs. Discovering her brother Binky and his family are in residence in London, it appears that Georgie will have to move in with them, something she and her sister-in-law Fig both would like to avoid. And, as is often the case with Lady Georgie, the Queen's wishes intercede, and Georgie finds herself living at Kensington Palace as a companion for Prince George's bride-to-be, Princess Marina of Greece. With the wedding two weeks away, Georgie is to be Marina's guide and escort in London, showing off the best of the city and shopping for last minute trousseau items. In spite of the palace's haunted history, Georgie is looking forward to landing someplace where she doesn't have to worry about having no money.

Of course, with Lady Georgie, nothing ever goes in a straight line order. No sooner does Princess Marina touch down on English soil than a body turns up, discovered by Georgie right outside Kensington Palace. With Georgie practically stumbling upon the body when she's alone, the first order of business becomes secrecy, keeping the news from the Princess and the public. Georgie once again finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation, albeit one in which she must pretend doesn't exist. The royal family must be protected at all costs, and Georgie fears that cost may include the murderer getting away with the crime, as the murder victim is one of Prince George's former dalliances. But, Georgie is nothing if not persistent, and she is quite willing to do her own investigating, which can have illuminating results, but can also lead to deadly danger. And where is Darcy, the love of her life? Her exasperation with her beau is at its all-time high, and a crossroads of which direction the relationship will take is all too evident.

There is so much to love about this latest Lady Georgie book, and I feel like I say that about each one, which only means that each book offers a freshness of story that is captivating. The combination of mystery and history makes the story especially interesting to me, and the inclusion of the wedding of Prince George and Marina, with the sidebars of Prince David and Mrs. Simpson are seamlessly included in the fictional murder story. Recommending Malice at the Palace is to recommend a pleasure of a treasure.

Come to HarmCome to Harm by Catriona McPherson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was on edge during the entire reading of Catriona McPherson's Come to Harm. I just knew at any moment the ax, so to speak, was going to fall. Kudos to this brilliant author for creating this suspenseful atmosphere, where the reader steps carefully along with Keiko, the main character, into the dark secrets of Painchton, Scotland. There are some comments I want to make, but it would be a disservice to new readers to ease the tension that winds one up reading this story. I will say that there are a number of possible suspects in a number of possible scenarios of wrong doing.

Keiko Nishisato has arrived in Painchton, Scotland to attend university in Edingburgh to work on her PhD. She has a scholarship and is being sponsored by the Painchton traders and given a free apartment for three years. It's all almost to good to be true, and Keiko begins to suspect that maybe that's exactly what it is. Everyone is extremely friendly and eager to help her settle in, but there seems to be a hidden agenda that Keiko can't seem to crack. She slowly acclimates herself to new customs and new food in this home six thousand miles away from Tokyo. And, oh, the food is plentiful, with all the merchants wanting to feed her and teach her about traditional Scottish foods. Of course, Keiko's PhD original subject matter deals with food, so the residents are more than happy to help. Then, the apartment that Keiko has been given is above the butcher shop, and she becomes friends with the two Poole sons who work in their family's shop. Only their mother, Mrs. Poole, keeps her distance from Keiko and doesn't join in the town's enthusiastic welcome. As Keiko digs in to work on her studies, she feels more and more that there information is being intentionally withheld from her and people might not be who they seem. With several girls having left Painchton in a rather abrupt manner, Keiko begins to worry that it's urgent for her to discover why they left.

Come to Harm is yet another great read from Catriona McPherson. A dark thriller, it will keep you on guard and give you the gasp you're waiting for.

Fate of the UnionFate of the Union by Max Allan Collins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Political thrillers are not usually the first books I pick up in the crime genre, but when I do and the book is as great a read as Fate of the Union, I begin to wonder why my reticence. The action is full of the suspense that I crave in books, and the characters are wonderfully drawn, with interesting flaws and quirks. Max Collins and Matthew Clemens have certainly won me over with this second in their Joe Reeder series. I plan to quickly go back and pick up the first, Supreme Justice.

Joe Reeder is an ex-Secret Service agent, who has twice saved the lives of the leaders in the United States, one of those being the President. He has earned a stellar reputation and envied popularity rating, but he is dismissive of the accolades and more interested in running his successful security buiness, ABC Security, name chosen for its advantageous placement in the phone book. How does one create a leading character who is a hero and a great guy with an amazing sense of humor, an admired figure who doesn't take himself too seriously? Well, Collins and Clemens have created such a character, a blend of kick-ass awesome. Of course, once in the Secret Service, you become ensconced in a mind-set that stays with you, and if you're lucky, keeps you alive.

Reeder is what is loosely termed a consultant for the FBI's Special Situations Task Force, as well as running his successful security firm. He and the head of this force, FBI Special Agent Patti Rogers, worked together on the last case where he saved the life of a high-ranking official. In Fate of the Union, the officially labeled suicide of one of Reeder's former Secret Service colleagues and string of execution-style killings bring Reeder and Rogers together again. The connection of these separate events is buried deep in a conspiracy that requires the combined efforts of these two highly capable professionals, along with Roger's personally vetted task force. The stakes are high and the bodies are piling up, as a killer has his sights on a prize of enormous impact. And, of course, time is slipping away as fast as the killer. For Reeder and Rogers, they must be their most brilliant and most resourceful ever if they are to prevent the final act of a madman.

So glad that I expanded my reading comfort zone to include this amazing novel. The action is so well paced and the story is so compelling that a reader will immediately become fully engaged in this crisis for the nation. The characters and their dialogue, with an infusion of humor, are yet another reason to enjoy this book, and it doesn't hurt that it all takes place in the invigorating setting of Washington, D.C. A most satisfying read.

Fatal Reservations (Key West Food Critic Mystery, #6)Fatal Reservations by Lucy Burdette

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If the Key West Food Critic Mystery series was food, it would be Key Lime Cake prepared by the chef at Firefly Restaurant in Key West, a dessert that just happens to be the most delicious, refreshing piece of eating that one's mouth could savor. I truly come close to squealing with delight when each new book in this series deals with a different part of Key West that I have personally visited. But, you needn't have visited Key West to enjoy these tasty morsels, because author Lucy Burdette creates a vivid picture that ensconces you into the atmosphere and geography of this island paradise, a paradise full of colorful people/characters and a bit of murder on the side.

In Fatal Reservations, Haley Snow, the food critic at Key Zest magazine and character who seems to always find herself in the middle of police business, is getting used to a new boss, Palamina Wells, at the online magazine, while dating her other boss, Wally, there. Never a dull or uncomplicated moment with Haley, she is in the midst of gearing up to review Key West's new restaurant, a floating restaurant named For Goodness Sake, and she's keeping a watchful eye on her boathouse roommate, eighty-year-old Miss Gloria, who is a new volunteer at the Key West Cemetery. Attending a city commission meeting over the controversy of the new restaurant bypassing certain regulations to which other land restaurants had to adhere. The meeting also brings up another issue, the problem of allotting spaces to the Mallory Square Sunset Celebration performers. It's a heated situation, and with the identification of a body that just washed up in brackish water as one of the Mallory Square performers, everyone is on edge. When Haley's good friend whom she frequently consults, Lorenzo the tarot card-reader of Sunset Celebration fame, becomes the prime suspect in the murder, Haley must once again take matters into her own hands to try and help him. If only so much evidence didn't point to him as guilty.

Lucy Burdette has created a series that I have come to depend on as a guaranteed great read. The characters, the plots, the setting, the witty dialogue, and the food. Oh, the food! I consider these books my guide to eating in Key West, and I haven't been disappointed. And, then there is Haley's fabulous cooking, for which Lucy so generously provides recipes at the end of the story. It's with anticipation I open each new book, and with great joy I read each page. The latest adventurous mystery with the great title of Fatal Reservations will charm you and thrill you with the best Key West has to offer.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Anthony Awards, Nominee Considerations, Reviews Part 5

So, I'm still reading 2015 books, trying to catch up with some of the ones I want to consider for my nominating ballot for the Anthony Awards.  Ballots are due April 30th, and I fear I won't get all the reading in that I'd like.  But, I will never get in all the reading I'd like.  And, in addition to reading for the nominations, I have a long list to read before Bouchercon in September.  I keep thinking that one of these years, I won't have such a list for Bouchercon, that I might catch up, but that's the joy of reading, always hearing about authors that are new to you and scrambling to read a series and/or stand-alones by those authors.  After I finish posting about the nominations, I plan to do posts on those authors with whom I'm hoping to become acquainted before rolling into New Orleans next fall.  

Today's four books and authors for nominee consideration are No Other Darkness by Sarah Hillary from Headline Book Publishing (eligible for Best Paperback Original), A Deceptive Homecoming by Anna-Loan Wilsey from Kensington (eligible for Best Paperback Original), The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins from Riverhead Books (eligible for Best Novel), and Malice at the Palace by Rhys Bowen from Berkley (eligible for Best Novel).

 No Other Darkness (DI Marnie Rome #2)No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's usually a difficult read in crime/mystery when the victims are children, as it should be. I'm not quick to go there in my reading. However, Sarah Hilary develops the story with such care and respect for the deceased children that I didn't just want to read how their deaths came about and who was responsible, I needed to read it for the answers in finding justice for lives cut so tragically short. Hilary delves into the darkness that needs to be explored to find the answers readers need, darkness that can consume a mind and direct actions to unspeakable results. It is psychologically intense, with so many threads and clues and past lives that must be sorted, and sorted it will be, brilliantly. No Other Darkness is actually the second entry into the DI Marnie Rome series, but starting with the second book posed no problems in becoming fully engaged in the story and the characters.

In the city of London and its surrounding area, there are countless old tunnels, buildings, and underground shelters left behind by wars and earlier needs. It is in one such underground shelter that the bodies of two children are discovered, and DI Marnie Rome and her partner Noah Jake are called in to investigate. It's a challenging case, as four or five years have passed since the deaths of the children. A father of a family living in a fairly new housing area discovers the shelter and bodies as he's digging a garden. There is, of course, no identification, but the children are determined to be young boys. Rome has what seems like an impossible task before her, but she is tenacious, determined, and deliberate in piecing together a complete picture that joins past and present together, even if it means revisiting her own painful past and unresolved feelings.

The true genius of this book is that it goes beyond a murder mystery of investigation and solution. It is at its essence a story about the dynamics of relationships in a family, dealing with love, the good, and pain, the bad. What happens when a family reaches the breaking point? How do people survive the loss of family and love again?

There is no straight line to answers in this intricately plotted story. Lots of twists and turns and suspects who fit but then don't. It is an absolute unraveling of the past and present to see where they meet. The characters are so well developed, main characters and secondary ones. Marnie is a complex person, strong and vulnerable. I look forward to reading more background about her when I read the first book in the series. Noah's character is not just a sidekick to Marnie's story, but he has his own fascinating personal space and story. I'm not quite sure how Sarah Hilary gives the readers such a complete character with the different characters in this story, but it is a gift that adds great dimension and flavor to a mesmerizing plot. 

A Deceptive Homecoming (Hattie Davish Mystery, #4)A Deceptive Homecoming by Anna Loan-Wilsey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The fourth entry into the Hattie Davish Mystery series is one of the best reads I've had all year. No one does historical mystery fiction better than Anna Loan-Wilsey. She is simply superb at the research behind the books and masterful at folding it into brilliantly written stories with characters and descriptions that bring the 1890s alive for readers. And, the mid-1890s was a fascinating period in the history of the United States, a time of innovation and progress on the cusp of a new century. Reading the Hattie Davish series allows one to experience the excitement of the changing times while showing an appreciation and connection to the past. I am always thrilled to learn bits of history that Loan-Wilsey has pulled from the lesser known facts surrounding famous names and events from our country's past. As a traveling secretary with a meticulous eye for detail and a knack for solving crimes, Hattie Davish is a character who takes us on a journey of intriguing discovery.

In a Deceptive Homecoming, readers finally get to see where Hattie's life began, where she took form and purpose. She has returned to her hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri to attend the funeral of one of her best friend's father and to be of assistance and comfort. But it would seem that her friend, Virginia Hayward, doesn't welcome her aid or comfort concerning her father Frank's death. Hattie is at a loss to understand Virginia's demeanor, and becomes even more at odds with Virginia as Hattie begins to question the identity of the man in Frank Hayward's casket. Coming home has also brought a reunion with Mrs. Chaplin's School for Women, the place where Hattie became a skilled secretary and learned to fend for herself through her education. Always grateful for her experiences at the school, she can't help but become involved in the problems that are besieging her alma mater. Bizarre happenings and missing money at the school would appear to be separate from her problems with Virginia, but are they? And, as Hattie digs deeper into the mysteries surrounding her old friends, her own personal history comes back to haunt her. Hattie's search for the truth and possible murderer take her through the streets of a transformed St. Joseph to the horrors of a lunatic asylum. It's a treacherous trip down memory lane.

Anna Loan-Wilsey has now given readers four great multi-layered stories, full of history and suspense. With each book, I become more convinced that the 1890s is an amazing time in which to start a series about an independent, smart woman who, like the times, are moving forward and breaking barriers that once were thought impenetrable. I can't wait to see where this ingenious author takes us next.

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I approach reading a book such as The Girl on the Train with all the hype surrounding it in a state of both excitement and trepidation. With promises that it’s going to be one of the year's best books, I read the book with this expectation hovering over me. I really wanted to love it, to be able to proclaim my agreement with the horn tooters and prophets. It was interesting to see if I would fall in with those who proclaim its genius or those who failed to be smitten.

This one had me lingering in the land of suspended opinion for pretty much the first half of the book. I genuinely disliked all the characters and found the three major women narrators either weak or bitchy. However, there is one measure of a novel’s effectiveness that cannot be denied. Did I need to keep reading to see what happens? Did I stay up late reading to fulfill that need as quickly as possible? The answers to both questions are “yes,” so I have to conclude that the story is a compelling one, and the deeply flawed characters are paramount to the success of the plot. The whole crazy setup works, and the characters do evolve. Of course, the fact that I have a fascination with trains and a long standing curiosity about what is going on in houses that I pass either on a train or car enhanced the method in which the story unfolds. My voyeurism was born watching Rear Window, where watching the daily routines of neighbors proved chillingly exciting and deadly. Not surprisingly, Hawkins’ book has been described as having Hitchcockian flair.

Rachel Watson is about as sad a sack as can be, and the only real interest she has in life is watching the lives of others out of the train window as she travels from a small suburb of London into the city itself. Alcoholism and obsession are the constants of her life, and moving on from a devastating divorce seems an elusive step for her. As a distraction from her pain and decline, Rachel has become fixated on one couple in particular during her daily commute and has named them Jason and Jess, the perfect couple. The train’s signal stop enables Rachel to witness Jason and Jess having coffee on their back terrace in the mornings, and she becomes emotionally invested in the scene playing out before her. And, then Rachel's image of her perfect couple gets slammed by reality, as interactions Rachael witnesses in her train watching spill over into a drama of a missing woman. The often incoherent state of black out in which Rachel finds herself proves to land her right in the middle of this suburban drama as she strives to remember vital information. The police consider her an unreliable witness when she reports on what she’s seen from her couple watching. As Rachel desperately searches for answers, the lines between lies and truth blur, and the tension of the story winds tighter and tighter.

Paula Hawkins uses three alternating narrators, three women at the heart of the story, with Rachel's voice being the prominent one. This approach allows the reader to understand how very little is as it seems. It works toward the climax of the different perspectives coming together in a chilling reveal. I started out stating that I didn't like the characters, meaning I wouldn't pick them as people to be in my life, but it doesn't mean that the characters didn't do their job well. While it won't be my favorite book of the year and isn't an "it" book for me, it was a good read that hit on my "Rear Window" sense of thrill. 

Malice at the Palace (Her Royal Spyness, #9)Malice at the Palace by Rhys Bowen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Lady Georgie series by Rhys Bowen is one of the most enjoyable reads I look forward to each year. I know when I open a Lady Georgie book that all the boxes will be ticked. Great characters, witty dialogue, fascinating history, intriguing settings, and a story that keeps me reading into the night/morning. Humor, history, mystery. I'm in reader heaven! Rhys Bowen writes like King Midas transformed; everything is gold.

For those multitude of fans who already follow the adventures and misadventures of Lady Georgie, you know that the books usually start with Georgie being between living suitable living arrangements and direction for her life. Unfortunately, as a part of the royal family, even if 35th removed from the crown, she has certain restrictions on what is acceptable and not for her path in life. In Malice at the Palace, Georgie has returned from her Hollywood adventure in America and is temporarily staying at her friend Belinda's Mews Cottage. But, Belinda unexpectantly returns and Georgie must find new digs. Discovering her brother Binky and his family are in residence in London, it appears that Georgie will have to move in with them, something she and her sister-in-law Fig both would like to avoid. And, as is often the case with Lady Georgie, the Queen's wishes intercede, and Georgie finds herself living at Kensington Palace as a companion for Prince George's bride-to-be, Princess Marina of Greece. With the wedding two weeks away, Georgie is to be Marina's guide and escort in London, showing off the best of the city and shopping for last minute trousseau items. In spite of the palace's haunted history, Georgie is looking forward to landing someplace where she doesn't have to worry about having no money.

Of course, with Lady Georgie, nothing ever goes in a straight line order. No sooner does Princess Marina touch down on English soil than a body turns up, discovered by Georgie right outside Kensington Palace. With Georgie practically stumbling upon the body when she's alone, the first order of business becomes secrecy, keeping the news from the Princess and the public. Georgie once again finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation, albeit one in which she must pretend doesn't exist. The royal family must be protected at all costs, and Georgie fears that cost may include the murderer getting away with the crime, as the murder victim is one of Prince George's former dalliances. But, Georgie is nothing if not persistent, and she is quite willing to do her own investigating, which can have illuminating results, but can also lead to deadly danger. And where is Darcy, the love of her life? Her exasperation with her beau is at its all-time high, and a crossroads of which direction the relationship will take is all too evident.

There is so much to love about this latest Lady Georgie book, and I feel like I say that about each one, which only means that each book offers a freshness of story that is captivating. The combination of mystery and history makes the story especially interesting to me, and the inclusion of the wedding of Prince George and Marina, with the sidebars of Prince David and Mrs. Simpson are seamlessly included in the fictional murder story. Recommending Malice at the Palace is to recommend a pleasure of a treasure.


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Anthony Awards, Nominee Considerations, Reviews Part 4

When you think about all of the books and short stories eligible and worthy of a Bouchercon Anthony Award, it makes you realize just how special the winning titles of the awards are.  Hearing one's name called and walking up to the podium to receive an Anthony has to be an overwhelmingly emotional moment for an author.  And, it is emotional for the readers who are fans of the books and authors, too.  The awards ceremony is one big mushy love fest, and to experience it is to understand that reading is actually a shared adventure.  Nominating five titles for each category of the Anthony Awards is a privilege and responsibility that gives readers a voice in honoring their favorites.  So, I continue with these posts of my reviews for some of the many eligible titles and hope that it helps in filling out your nomination ballot.  I'm not campaigning for any particular titles, but, of course, my reviews speak for themselves when I'm especially enamored.

The four books and reviews for consideration today are Little Pretty Things by Lori Rader-Day from Seventh Street Books (eligible for Best Paperback Original); Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King from Bantam (eligible for Best Novel); Night Night, Sleep Tight by Hallie Ephron from William Morrow (eligible for Best Novel); and Entry Island by Peter May from Quercus (eligible for Best Novel, published in U.S. in 2015, Britain was earlier).

Little Pretty ThingsLittle Pretty Things by Lori Rader-Day

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Can success or failure in high school continue to define a person ten years down the road? In Lori Rader-Day’s latest novel, Little Pretty Things, Juliet Townsend seems forever stuck in the fallout from coming in second, never the winner or the one who receives the accolades and the rewards of being first. Juliet has settled for less because she has never had more. Working in a one-star motel on the edge of her small town Midway, Juliet herself admits that “(She) hadn’t moved on.” It was typical of Midway, where people seem to fit the name, where people acquiesced instead of chasing dreams. Juliet’s one piece of salvation is her “little pretty things,” which she keeps hidden away.

But, the past can often prove to be a catalyst as well as a prison. When Juliet’s best friend from high school, Madeline Bell, shows up at the Mid-Night Motel, Juliet is less than thrilled to be reunited with the person who beat her in every track race throughout high school and kept Juliet from a coveted scholarship to a brighter future. Maddy is everything Juliet is not—well-dressed, well-traveled, polished, perfect face and hair, and wearing an enormous diamond engagement ring. Maddy had escaped Midway, and hadn’t been in touch in the intervening decade. Maddy wants to reconnect with Juliet and talk to her about “some things,” but Juliet brushes her off. And then, Juliet finds Maddy dead, murdered. Realizing that she is high on the suspect list of who killed Maddy, Juliet must revisit her and Maddy’s past to uncover long kept secrets with far-reaching effects.

Little Pretty Things is my first Lori Rader-Day read, and I can hardly wait to go back and read The Black Hour, her award-winning debut. Her writing is brilliantly suspenseful, and she makes even the most ordinary of characters interesting. Little Pretty Things is a mystery, a self examination, a journey through time, and a cautionary tale. I was indeed fortunate to receive an ARC through Goodreads, and I can guarantee this book is going to collect nominations and awards, too.

Dreaming Spies (Mary Russell, #13)Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Years ago I came upon a mystery series by Laurie R. King featuring Sherlock Holmes and a young girl who was his neighbor in Sussex, where Holmes was keeping bees. This first book entitled The Beekeeper's Apprentice was one of those books that it seems I'd been waiting my whole life to read. I fell head over heels in love with King's Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell. Following them through their adventures, including being married, has been one of my greatest reading pleasures. Each book in the series has been a return to a world in which I can expect to experience adventure, intelligent detecting, wit, and a constant quest for knowledge. I come away from each reading having been privy to an exciting story written by an amazing author whose every sentence has purpose in extricating the essential truth from the quagmire of subterfuge. And, of course, Russell and Holmes, with their wit and skills, are the most capable of guides through said quagmire.

In the 13th book of the Mary Russell narrated series, Russell and Holmes have returned to Sussex in March 1925 from their many travels to find a Japanese rock in their garden. It is not the only thing from Japan that will turn up at this time in their lives and take them back to thoughts of the year before when they spent a brief, yet intense time in that country. In April of 1924, Russell and Holmes had just finished a case in India (an adventure told in The Game) and we join them on a ship in Bombay headed for Japan. Neither has been to Japan, so it will be a learning experience for both of them this time, not just Russell. On board, Russell makes the acquaintance of a young Japanese woman, Haruki San, who agrees to tutor the pair in the Japanese language and customs. Another passenger catches Holmes' notice, and although the gentleman is an Earl, the Earl of Darley, Holmes is familiar with Darley as a suspected blackmailer, one Holmes would very much like to expose. As the voyage spreads out over three weeks, the undertones of things not being as they seem increase daily. Russell and Holmes even encounter a ninja.

Upon arriving in Japan, things become first more clouded and then an immersion into the culture brings clarity. Of course, clarity doesn't always mean immediate resolution. Haruki San continues to play an important part in guiding the detectives on their Japanese journey, on a journey that will take them along the Nakasendo Road of which the Haiku poet Basho wrote, giving Russell a close appreciation of the Japanese poet and the beauty of the poetry form and the land of which it spoke. With each chapter in the book beginning with a haiku, my fascination with that poetry has also grown. The journey introduces the couple to green tea, eating octopus, sleeping on tatami floors and bedding, public baths, and a person of future infamy to the world. The Prince Regent Hirohito, who would some years later become Emperor Hirohito, is in 1924 a young man with a problem requiring the assistance of Holmes and Russell. With international relations and a country's welfare at stake, there is nothing for it but for the husband and wife team to do all they can to solve a mystery and avoid international disaster. Some things, however, take longer than one expects for final resolution.

It was a thrill for me to receive an ARC from Random House of Dreaming Spies, as I had been a fan for so long of this series. I gain so much from reading the Russell and Holmes books. A great story, delight in witty dialogue, the pleasure of feeding my inner Anglophile, and the learning of historical elements and countries that enrich my reading all around. Laurie R. King is an author that never disappoints me, and I am at the ready whenever I'm asked to recommend a series with the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes adventures.

Night Night, Sleep TightNight Night, Sleep Tight by Hallie Ephron

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hallie Ephron’s book Night Night, Sleep Tight delivers consuming drama and spellbinding suspense in a story that has its beginnings in the glittering Hollywood atmosphere of the early 1960s. A murder in 1985 sparks the revealing of secrets that have been bottled up for two decades, secrets that shaped lives and destroyed relationships. The author was herself a child of these Hollywood days, with parents who were script writers. The kernel incident of this fictional story is the true life event of Lana Turner’s daughter shooting and killing Lana’s boyfriend in their Beverly Hills home. Hallie’s childhood home was near the place of this tragedy, so it is with complete authenticity that the time and place of the story is imparted to the reader. How Hallie Ephron takes the real life kernel and develops it into a layered story with threads of imagination spinning purpose and direction is brilliant. She knows how to make the fantastic real and put the reader right in the middle of the setting and story. I always feel so connected to the characters and their plights when I read a book by Hallie. It’s no surprise that this author has written a non-fiction book on how to write mysteries.

Deidre Unger is returning to her childhood home of Beverly Hills to help her father, a once successful Hollywood script writer, ready his house to be sold. With her parents long ago divorced and her older brother rather sketchy in his responsibilities, this task has fallen to Deidre. It’s 1985 and twenty years past her nightmarish accident that left her crippled, and returning to the scene is anything but pleasurable. It becomes even less so when Deidre arrives and finds her father floating dead in his swimming pool. As the police dig deeper into the “accident,” it is soon ruled murder, and Deidre is being questioned closely about the timing of her arrival. Appointed in her father’s will as his literary executor, Deidre begins to uncover puzzling information about the past and the night that saw glamorous actress “Bunny” Nicol’s boyfriend murdered by her teenage daughter, Deidre’s friend Joelen. Deidre had been in the Nicol’s house that night, but her memory is hazy due to a car accident she was in that same night, an accident which left her life forever altered. That the long ago night and her father’s death could be connected in any way seems implausible to Deidre, but therein lies the story of greed, secrecy, and betrayal that is so intriguing.

Start early in the day on this book, or plan to stay up late. You will want to keep reading straight to the end, as the pages practically turn themselves in the story’s well-structured flow.

Entry IslandEntry Island by Peter  May

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Peter May's The Lewis Trilogy books rate among my favorite reads in the past few years, so it is with great anticipation of enjoyment that I began Entry Island. I was not disappointed. Peter May is simply a master at telling generational stories, with the connections to past and present being one of the most fascinating mysteries to decipher. There is the intriguing murder mystery, too, but it is a deliciously layered one with the events of the past coming into play. And, those fans of The Lewis Trilogy will be well pleased that the mystery of Entry Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has its beginnings on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. So, blackhouses and windy hilltops and sandy coves in a previous century are part of the present-day story.

Entry Island is a remote island in the Magdalen Island chain in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and a murder has occurred on this island, where crime is unheard of and doors always left unlocked. Detective Sime Mackenzie of the Montreal Surete has been assigned to the team traveling to the islands because of his fluency in both English and French. Entry Island is English speaking in a country where English and French languages have claimed different and often adjoining areas. It will be Sime's job to interview the widow of the slain man in a case that on the surface appears to have an easy solution, that of wife killing husband. But complications arise in the very makeup of the team sent to investigate, as Sime's ex-wife is the crime scene investigator. It is the breakup of their marriage that has produced a less than full functioning Sime, a Sime beset by chronic insomnia.

From the very moment that Sime meets Kirsty Cowell, the victim's wife, a surreal sense of deja-vue colors his part in the investigation. He knows that he has seen this woman before, but he has never been to Entry Island before, and Kirsty Cowell has never been off of Entry Island. Kirsty's recounting of the attack that left her husband dead is of a knife-wielding intruder clad in dark clothing and a ski mask first trying to kill her and her husband rushing in to fight off the assailant. James Cowell is stabbed three times and the killer runs off into the night. With no evidence of a third person and no murder weapon, the attention focuses on the wife as the main suspect, and information starts leaking out about the Cowells' marriage being in trouble. With James Cowell having been a most wealthy man, the Surete team thinks it has an open and shut case. But, Sime isn't convinced that Kirsty is guilty, and he begins to have dreams in his brief periods of sleep that come from another century and his great-great-great grandfather's journals that seem to bear relevance in a peculiar way to the current circumstances. The dark atmosphere of the storm laden weather mirrors the darkness that Sime must sort through if he is to find a definitive answer to both this murder and his strange connection to it. The path to that answer also includes a look at the historically accurate clearing of the Hebrides in the 19th century, where lords of the land drove people from their blackhouses and onto ships headed for Canada.

Peter May is a brilliant writer, creating atmosphere and story that creep into your mind and under your skin until you truly feel a vested stake in the outcome, too. May's books are complex, layered accounts of people grappling with a past and unable to proceed with the present until coming to terms with that past. The characters, the settings, the flow of story are all done with the touch of master storyteller. Reading Peter May books is always a thrilling experience.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Anthony Awards, Nominee Considerations, Reviews Part 3

If you've been following my posts this week, and I hope you have, you'll know that I'm featuring reviews of books I've read that are eligible for the Bouchercon Anthony Awards nominations.  With so many amazing books and stories published in 2015, it's hard to narrow down the choices to five nominations for each category.  I am providing these reviews and mentions of the books I've read to help jog your memory about books you've already read or to encourage you to read some new ones before the April 30th deadline for Anthony nominations.  All those attending Bouchercon can participate in this nominating, so please take advantage of supporting your favorite authors and books by filling out the nomination ballot that you should have received in your email.  If you did not receive a ballot, there is contact information on the Bouchercon 2016 FB page    

Today's four books and authors I offer for your consideration are The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny from Minotaur Books (eligible for Best Novel), The Fatal Flame by Lyndsay Faye from G.P. Putnam's Sons (eligible for Best Novel), Burnt River by Karin Salvalaggio from Minotaur Books (eligible for Best Novel), and The Edge of Dreams by Rhys Bowen from Minotaur Books (eligible for Best Novel). 

The Nature of the Beast (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #11)The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How does Louise Penny continue to make each book in the Armand Gamache series so thrilling? The answer lies in her brilliant storytelling, her fascinating characters, and a setting that has become home to all the multitude of fans who imagine themselves sitting in the Bistro in Three Pines. The story lines are complex, but not confusing. Penny trusts the intelligence of her readers, and they are rewarded with deep pockets of a story that could have world altering effects. That The Nature of the Beast has its origins in fact, an actual historical happening, was a surprise to me, and I wasn't aware of its historical connection until after reading the book. What Louise Penny was able to do with that obscure piece of fact reinforces what an amazing weaver of stories she is. Her ability to combine the best and worst of human beings into a single tale turns the fantastic into the plausible. And nobody is better than Penny at dissecting and revealing the emotions of characters so bare-faced and tangible.

Armand Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie have retired to Three Pines, the village that offers peace and sanity from the insanity and violence to which Gamache dealt with in the Surete. It is a place where adults and children can explore their beautiful surroundings in an isolated haven. It is where nine-year-old Laurent Lepage runs through the forest and reports back to the villagers his findings of mythical and extinct creatures roaming freely. Much akin to the boy who cried wolf, nobody pays Laurent's stories any mind, including the last one about a giant gun with a monster atop it. And, then, Laurent goes missing, is found in the woods dead, and is determined to be a murder victim. His death leads quickly to the discovery of the giant gun and monster atop it, too. Laurent had been truthful in his last story from the woods. Now, the new Chief Inspector, Isabelle Lacoste, and Gamache's son-in-law, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, must investigate the boy's murder and uncover whether it is tied to the mass weapon hiding in the hills behind Three Pines. As is so often the case with a murder, the answers lie in the past, and finding those answers will once again bring Gamache back into a world he had hoped to leave behind. What is especially heinous about Laurent's murder is that it puts the whole village of Three Pines under suspicion. Who knew about the gun or the men who created it? Who has had secrets for decades that must now come out if the killing is to stop? Just when you think you've gotten through the layers of subterfuge and horror, there is yet another layer that ensnares you.

Louise Penny fans will enjoy this dark tale of secrets with great appreciation for the masterful writing that fully engages and never disappoints. The eleventh book in the Armand Gamache series is the work of an author who cares deeply for her characters and her readers, and we, the readers, benefit greatly from that care. 

The Fatal Flame (Timothy Wilde Mysteries, #3)The Fatal Flame by Lyndsay Faye

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gripping! First word that comes to mind to describe Lyndsay Faye's The Fatal Flame, the third and last installment of the Timothy Wilde series. Nobody can enfold you into the reality of New York City in the late 1840s like the brilliant Ms. Faye. It's a complete immersion in which one can see, feel, hear, and taste the city where the police department is a newly minted endeavor and where people must meet the harshness of life head-on. And, young Copper Star Timothy Wilde must at last deal with his demons and fears, facing truth and trying to survive its harshness. Timothy's life has been defined by fire, and it is fire by which he finds himself surrounded in this story. Can fire that has crippled him free him, or will it at last destroy him?

In the spring of 1848, New York City is spilling over with people and poverty, with more immigrants arriving daily and finding their promise land yet another hardship in their struggles to survive. Timothy is involved with an investigation to obliterate one danger to young Irish girls who are met as they soon as they depart their ship and hoodwinked into prostitution by an insidious purveyor of fresh flesh to the ever hungry market for such. While in pursuit of this particular evil, Timothy is pulled into another troubling investigation by his larger-than-life brother Valentine. Someone is threatening to set fires to occupied buildings belonging to the 8th Ward's alderman, owner of a major textile company and many other properties. When an actual fire does occur, killing two women, it becomes imperative that Timothy uncover the many layers of deceit and power play before more deaths. Of course, brother Valentine, chooses this time to challenge said alderman in the upcoming election, which proves dangerous for anyone with ties to Valentine or Timothy. Throw into the mix a woman's rights activist, our dear Bird Daly coming of age, Timothy's precious Mercy Underhill showing up again, Timothy's landlady and her affection, and the power players of Tammany Hall taking an interest in the Wildes. It's definitely a melting pot of disastrous proportions.

Now, how do you keep a book of 456 pages gripping? Well, first you get Lyndsay Faye to write it. The attention to detail, the exquisite pacing of the story, the captivating characters, the ensconcing setting, and the historical significance. Gripped you will be. Oh, and then there is even the relevance to today's history, looking at the beginning practices of the NYPD, which were often brutal and tortuous, and comparing the fear that certain groups of people had of the police to our present-day situation of police abuse of power. Well, it makes for an interesting discovery of how things began and how they are now. Of course, the whole book is one fascinating historical adventure after another, and as I mentioned, Lyndsay's attention to detail is well researched and well written. The snippets of newspaper reports on events of that time appear at the beginning of each chapter, and I found these to be parts I marked as readily with my post-its as other parts of the story. I'm sorry that this amazing series has come to an end, but it has gone out with a bang for sure. My nerves can now relax, as I no longer have to guess the fates of my friends/characters, and even though not everyone and everything turned out as I wanted, I will forever consider this series a favorite.

Burnt RiverBurnt River by Karin Salvalaggio

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When you've read the first book in a series and loved it, there is great anticipation and some worry about the second book and its continued excellence. Last year, Bone Dust White by Karin Salvalaggio was the author's debut novel, a fact that I found extraordinary due to its complex array of story and characters. The main character, Detective Macy Greeley, is eight months pregnant and unmarried when the story begins. Who starts the story of someone when she's eight months pregnant? Well, Karin Salvalaggio does and does it brilliantly. I stated at the time that Macy Greeley is a promise of layers to come. So, we come to book #2, Burnt River, and Macy, with her flaws, strengths, and struggles becomes more whole, more solid, more fantastic to the readers. Second book jitters for the reader evaporate. Like its title suggests, this book (and this series) is on fire.

We catch up with Macy eighteen months after the birth of her son, Luke. She has been sent by her boss, State Police Captain Ray Davidson, to Wilmington Creek in northern Montana where a veteran of the Afghanistan wars has been murdered. Macy isn't happy to be leaving her home in Helena and her son, and her personal relationship with Davidson continues to be a tangled web of promises and let downs. However, if Maggie is confused about her personal life, she is the consummate state police detective, dedicated to uncovering the intricacies of murder. John Dalton, the recently returned Afghanistan veteran, seems an unlikely victim of a dark alley homicide, but secrets can obscure motives, and John had secrets that his sister Jessie and friends Dylan and Tyler are desperately trying keep hidden. With the area experiencing an especially harsh heat wave and wildfires flaming, Police Chief Aiden Marsh already has his hands full, but he proves invaluable to Macy in her pursuit of local knowledge and connections. As the heat intensifies from the temperature, the wildfires, and the investigation, Macy starts piecing together confusion into answers, but will she arrive at those answers in time to prevent more loss.

Thank you, Karin Salvalaggio for providing me with a book that I didn't want to end and ensuring that the Macy Greeley series is the real thing in outstanding mystery fiction. The only request I have now is to please write book #3 like a bat out of hell. Please! 

The Edge of Dreams (Molly Murphy Mysteries, #14)The Edge of Dreams by Rhys Bowen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Edge of Dreams kept me on the edge of my seat in constant anticipation. I spent the whole book looking over my shoulder for the next danger or villainous act. How great is that! Rhys Bowen has given us a story that does exactly what a mystery/suspense book is supposed to do, keep us on that edge where we are afraid of what might happen next, but we must know. Every time I read a Molly Murphy mystery, I wonder just how Rhys can make each book so fresh, so titillating, so un-put-downable. She is simply and deeply one of the best at her craft. The characters, the plot, the setting, the themes draw the reader into the world of the early 1900s, 1905 in this particular tale, and absolutely captivate from beginning to end. After finishing this book, you will have to re-acclimate to the present day, and you will do so reluctantly.

In Molly's latest adventure or as is often the case, misadventure, she is only a few months back from Paris and her amazing murder solving there. She and husband Daniel, a New York City police captain, are moving back into their home on Patchin Place in Greenwich Village. It has been mostly restored from the fire that devastated it and Molly's family before her Paris trip. Molly is thrilled to be back on Patchin Place, across from her dear friends Gus and Sid, even if it means that Molly's mother-in-law will be staying for a bit. A most welcome surprise is the arrival of Bridie, the young girl who accompanied Molly to America from Ireland, with Daniel's mother. The extra help is needed, as Molly and her one-year-old son Liam have just survived a train crash, which has left Molly with cracked ribs and a substantial bump on the head. Liam is unscathed from the ordeal, and his rambunctious activity is much more manageable with Bridie around. Daniel, who is working on what appears to be a serial murder case, is grateful to have Molly and Liam in good hands while Molly recuperates.

Sid and Gus, as usual, are involved in a new interest that becomes crucial to both Daniel's case and Molly's survival. Dream analysis is a new area of study, and Gus has recently studied it some with Dr. Sigmund Freud in Europe. Gus is eager to pursue this interest in America, but America is somewhat behind in the studies of the mind. Molly, having grown up with the Irish tales of dream significance and the sixth sense, is open to this new line of inquiry into the human psyche, and she develops a personal interest when a recurring dream leaves her worried. Before long, there is the inevitable collision of Molly's world and Daniel's case. Daniel has come to appreciate Molly's detective skills, even if he doesn't want her to resume her detective career. The murderer whom Daniel seeks is a new kind of monster, killing in what seems a randomness and senselessness among the average, unassuming population of a simple-minded woman, a judge's wife, and a tutor's mother. But, as Molly and Daniel have too often discovered, there are few coincidences where murder is concerned and links don't always pop out to announce themselves. Dream analysis, hard digging into connections, and dangerous surprises will carry Molly and the reader from random to related with a flow of non-stop action and unrelenting pursuit.

Thank you, Rhys Bowen for another great addition to the Molly Murphy series. You deliver with every book, and I always think that the current one is my favorite until, of course, the next one. To read a series in which each entry is a favorite is the best of reading pleasure and the most masterful of the art of writing.