The Anthony Awards are given out at Bouchercon World Mystery Conference. For those of us who have experienced the wonder of this conference, we know how exciting it is to see authors rewarded for their hard work and talent. And, what's especially fun and satisfying for readers is that if we're attending Bouchercon, we get to be part of the nominating and voting process. It's a privilege and responsibility that requires careful consideration. Attendees can nominate five books for each category on their nominating ballots, and with all the great works for each year, five doesn't seem nearly enough. But, five is the limit, and so we think back over the eligible books, books from the previous year, that we've read and diligently fill out and send in our ballot. For the 2016 Bouchercon to be held in September in New Orleans (already dancing to the beat), the Anthony nomination ballots are due April 30th.
There are so many amazing recommendations for this ballot, and the word is circulating on social media about what books are eligible (original publication date in U.S. must be 2015) in what category, and this information is extremely helpful to those filling out their ballots. As is typical of the mystery/crime community, sharing information and resources is a natural part of loving this genre. So, a list is started and others add on, trying to ensure all authors get their due consideration. I've decided to use my blog to further get the word out on the authors I've read or am reading for these nominations. It is but a small piece of the information available, but as I pointed out, with everyone sharing information, the chances are that no one will be left out.
So, I am going to post reviews of books that are up for consideration in hopes that if you haven't read the book, you still have time to do so and give it some thought on your Anthony nomination ballot. These reviews are not necessarily campaigns for your vote, just ones I want to make sure readers don't miss. Today's reviews include Anne Cleeland's Murder in Hindsight from Kensington
(eligible for Best Novel), Elly Griffith's The Ghost Fields from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
(eligible for Best Novel), Jennifer Kincheloe's The Secret Life of Anna Blanc from Seventh Street Books (eligible for Best First Novel), and James Ziskins' Stone Cold Dead from Seventh Street Books (eligible for Best Paperback Original).
Murder in Hindsight by Anne Cleeland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There are those book series with which I’m so besotted that a new book in the series has me fairly dancing to begin. Of course, the down side is that the book only has a countable number of pages. So it began when I received my advanced reader’s copy of Anne Cleeland’s latest New Scotland Yard Mystery starring Chief Inspector Michael Acton and Detective Sergeant Kathleen Doyle, Murder in Hindsight. Euphoria upon opening the cover and reading this fascinating story and dreading the end, where you long for just one more scene, one more glimpse at one of mystery’s most unique duos.
Murder in Hindsight presents Detective Sergeant Kathleen Doyle with a real connect-the-dots case. Trying to ease Chief Inspector Acton’s worries over his trouble prone wife, she has taken up the job of reviewing cold cases. But, Doyle becomes involved despite her best intentions and her husband’s over protectiveness in an apparent serial murder case. Someone is meting out justice that didn’t get served in the courtroom by putting a bullet in the guilty party’s head, and the murder victims are all related to different cold cases. Acton is also on the scene to investigate, but he has his own set of problems to solve, which involve a reporter whose intentions go far beyond getting the latest scoop. Doyle slowly discovers Acton’s perilous position that has him dodging scandal and ruin. Unwittingly, Doyle becomes entwined in the conspiracy against Acton as she begins communications with a man who, after he rescues her from an attack, proves to be an associate of a criminal serving time because of Acton. Doyle must figure out who she can trust if she is to stop the vigilante killings and keep Acton’s secrets, of which he has many, from destroying him and their life together. Doyle’s strong sense of loyalty and intuition will serve her well in her tasks.
There are few series that have engaged me to the point that Anne Cleeland’s New Scotland Yard Mysteries. Cleeland has the ability to bring characters to your heart and bind you to them. Kathleen Doyle is so full of wit and devotion to the people she loves that she continues to delight and charm in each book, making Acton’s obsession with her completely reasonable. Lord Michael Acton never disappoints in his commitment to Doyle and to a system of justice that serves up the guilty to their just desserts. Doyle and Acton have such a complete understanding of one another that the reader will develop strong protective instincts of his/her own. The supporting characters of the ever irritating DS Isabel Munoz and Doyle’s could-have-been boyfriend, now friend, DS Thomas Williams add so much to the narrative and the life of Doyle. The stories are so intricately plotted and layered that the action is always moving forward at just the right pace.
The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
2013 was one of my best reading years ever. It was the year that I discovered Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway series and got to read the first five Ruth Galloway novels one right after the other. It was a blissful reading spring that year. But, once you're up to speed in a series, there is the yearly wait for the next book, and in a favorite series such as this one by Elly Griffiths, it's a hard wait. Once again, it was worth the wait. The Ghost Fields brought to life those characters I missed so much. Archeologist/professor/ Dr.Ruth Galloway, DCI Harry Nelson, Cathbad the Druid, Ruth's daughter Kate, DS Judy Johnson, DS David Clough/Cloughie, American academic/TV presenter Frank Barker, and even Phil Trent, Ruth's weasel boss. These characters have been developed with skilled care by the author, and it is little wonder that they have become like family to readers of the series.
When the remains of a man, later to be identified as those of a member of a prominent family named Blackstock, are unearthed inside an American WWII plane in Norfolk , Dr. Ruth Galloway is called in by DCI Harry Nelson to help discover the chain of events leading to the dead man's death and subsequent placement in the plane, as her first pronouncement is that the victim had been shot in the head and couldn't possibly be the pilot. Thus begins an investigation into the death of Fred Blackstock, originally thought to have died as a part of an American flight crew in the waters off of Norfolk. The connection to what are called the "ghost fields" in the area is a step back into the days of WWII when there were American airfields established in Norfolk.
DCI Nelson has his work cut out for him in dealing with the Blackstock family members who remain at Blackstock Manor, as buried secrets of missing family members and order of inheritance must be sorted. To further frustrate Nelson is the arrival of a television company that is doing a film on the American ghost fields with the focus being on Fred Blackstock who early in his life relocated to America and ironically ended up dying so near his British ancestral home as a part of the American forces. As well as the professional frustration, there is the added personal distraction with the American academic Frank Barker, who will narrate the film. Frank and Ruth have a past together, but before that Nelson and Ruth had a past, and there are a lot of emotions running amok. When another present day murder occurs, the urgency to solve the mysteries of the past is full on.
Griffiths gives us the intensity that always accompanies her stories, as dark secrets come undone and twists of fates surface. There is never a lull in the flow of action and suspense. The author masterfully lets the reader know that danger is right around the corner, but we are wonderfully surprised with it when it strikes. The interplay of the characters and the growth of relationships and understandings throughout the series is a thing of beauty to watch. Ruth Galloway is strong and competent, but she is human, and human have their frailties, too. She is one of my absolute favorite fictional characters. This book in the series is rather a crossroads for Ruth's personal life, and readers will be grateful for Ruth confronting some of her feelings for others.
Fans of Elly Griffiths and this series are going to be most thrilled with this well-plotted mystery that answers so many questions on so many fronts.
The Secret Life of Anna Blanc by Jennifer Kincheloe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I think it's a fair assessment that most readers enjoy learning, and fiction readers are some of the most curious. So, when a book gives me a great story connected to a fascinating time in history that I haven't read much about, I'm one happy reader. I do admit a fondness for turn of the century, 20th, settings, but I had no experience with the Los Angeles Police Department of 1907 and the fact that women did work there, as matrons. I wasn't sure about the place setting at first, as Los Angeles doesn't immediately get my reading juices bubbling, but author Jennifer Kincheloe won me over with her deft descriptions and constant adventure running through the scenery. From the seedy prostitution establishments to the main character Anna Blanc's mansion residence, it was all so interesting and authentic, due to the author's meticulous research. I often felt as if I were sitting watching a play with the dress, scenery, characters, and extras all on cue, even the cats.
Anna Blanc is the privileged daughter of a well-known Los Angeles banker, and we first see her eloping with a somewhat dandy of a man, hoping to escape the confines of her strict father and excited about learning the ways of womanhood. Her attempt at liberation is thwarted, and her father has her returned home to round-the-clock supervision. Of course, Anna is a most clever girl, and she is able to slip into a women's vote rally, where she meets a police matron and becomes interested in finding out more about police work. Anna is quite spoiled and naive, but she is also highly intelligent and resourceful, and she is definitely bored with being a socialite. Her father has hired a brute of a minder for her, but
her minder is a most greedy woman, so they come to an understanding. This understanding allows Anna to become involved with the LAPD of 1907. She enters into this new world as a series of young prostitutes have been murdered. It is these murders that will take Anna to places no debutante would ever dream of going, but Anna is an exception to so much of her expected life. Her secret life, while fulfilling and exciting, threatens to turn her whole life upside down if her father and fiance discover her subterfuge.
The characters in The Secret Life of Anna Blanc are marvelous, and so they deserve a mention of their own. Anna is at first defined by the restrictive world in which she lives, so she appears rather superficial and self-centered in the beginning. But, Kincheloe is brilliant at character development, and Anna grows into her own, discovering along with the reader just how smart and strong she is. The men in her life--her original intended, her father, her fiance, and the police officers with whom she works--are a varied and fascinating lot and run the gambit from scoundrel to hero. Anna's best friend is a young woman who believes strongly in her role as a society woman in 1907 and tries hard to understand Anna's unconventional ways. The prostitutes with whom Anna comes into contact are a captivating group of women with a common goal of trying to survive a world that can be unkind to women without a man to help her. Lulu, the madam of one establishment is wonderfully colorful and plays an important part in the story. All the characters help to depict both a time when the roles of men and women were clearly defined and when the entry into the Twentieth Century was bringing changes.
The Secret Life of Anna Blanc is Jennifer Kincheloe's debut novel, and it is a remarkable one. Full of history, wit, humor, tragedy, it promises to kick off this author's career with a force of success. I was fortunate to receive a copy of the book from the author at the 2015 Bouchercon, and it is one of the best I scored.
Stone Cold Dead by James W. Ziskin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Starting with #3 in a series is always a risk that you will feel behind on the characters and sometimes confused. Well, I felt right in the game with the amazing Ellie Stone, newspaper reporter in New Holland, New York in 1960. OK, I just have to say it. I absolutely love Ellie Stone. She is smart and sassy and curious. In the men's world of the 1960s, she holds her own, both with her work and her personal life. With an eye for detail that others miss, she makes an outstanding reporter and also a great detective, although the latter is spurred by curiosity and not vocation. She also knows how to hold her whiskey and get around in the romance department.
Stone Cold Dead begins in January of 1961 when the mother of fifteen-year-old Darleen Hicks asks Ellie to look into the disappearance of Darleen, who has been missing since before Christmas. Darleen was supposed to be on the school bus, but she never got home. Ellie promises the mother that she will do what she can, and since Ellie has a high level of curiosity, she digs and digs deeply into the disappearance of this young girl. The official police line of thinking is that Darleen has just run off, but Ellie starts discovering information that makes her doubt that solution, or at least feel the need to explore other scenarios. There is no lack of people who are connected to Darleen and seem to be withholding information that could shed some unfavorable light on themselves or others. Teachers, friends, family, and neighbors. They all seem to have pieces that Ellie needs to figure out where Darleen is, and since Ellie is relentless as an investigator, she will leave no (yes I have to say it) stone unturned.
Stone Cold Dead has made me a fan of Ellie Stone and James Ziskin. Ziskin successfully meets the challenge of writing a story set in the 1960 time frame, blending in references to the time period with Ellie's taste in music, brands, events, people, and the limitations of communication, which is of some importance. Ziskin provides fascinating plot and characters, and the witty dialogue that Ellie engages in is still bringing a smile to my face. I can't wait to read the first two in this series, starting after I finish this review. Now.