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 https://www.facebook.com/events/850126108400024/
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 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 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 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 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.