First up tonight in my reviews for books by authors attending Bouchercon 2013 in Albany is There Was an Old Woman by Hallie Ephron, a member of the amazing Jungle Red Writers. The second review covers the first in the Hugo Marston series by Mark Pryor, entitled The Bookseller. I'm adding a third review, which is for Laurie R. King's most recent Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes book, Garment of Shadows, published last year.
There Was an Old Woman: A Novel of Suspense by Hallie Ephron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The second part of the title of this novel by Hallie Ephron reads, “A Novel of Suspense.” It is aptly labeled. It is one of those books that the reader, me, had to finish before going to bed, simply because there would be no sleep until the suspense ended. Hallie Ephron knows how to entice a reader with intriguing characters and induce anxiety over what is on the next page.
Evie Ferrante is a senior curator at Five-Boroughs Historical Society in New York City and is putting the finishing touches on her first solo exhibit when she receives news that her mother is seriously ill in the hospital. Her mother’s neighbor in the riverfront neighborhood of Higgs Point, the Bronx is 91-year-old Mina Yetner, and it is Mina who calls Evie’s sister Ginger to inform them of their mother’s departure in an ambulance from the neighborhood. As Ginger has dealt with their alcoholic mother’s spells before, she insists that Evie take care of things this time, not realizing the severity of the situation. Evie has not seen her mother for four months, after yet another no-show from her mother at a lunch, and she is in shock at the condition of her mother’s house when she arrives there. Equally disconcerting is the discovery of large amounts of money and a new large, flatscreen television amidst the rubble in the house. Unfortunately, her mother is in no condition to answer any questions.
While Evie is struggling with her mother’s deterioration of both person and home, Mina is fighting her own battle to remain independent and not succumb to her nephew’s wishes to enter an assisted living facility. Evie temporarily moves into her mother’s house, and she becomes friendly with Mina, hoping that the older woman can help in the search to understand what has happened to Evie’s mother. Although Mina is beginning to wonder what is happening to herself and her neighborhood, she is still a sharp observer of human nature and her community. Evie and Mina will need each other to uncover the secrets of those around them, secrets and manipulations that have led to murder and threaten to lead to more.
One of the aspects of this novel that especially appealed to me was the historical information about the WWII bomber plane that hit the Empire State Building in 1945. Ephron smoothly integrated this historical event into the story through Evie's job and another surprising source. I always appreciate a little history with my mystery.
The Bookseller: The First Hugo Marston Novel by Mark Pryor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When I read the back blurb of The Bookseller and the description of the main character, Hugo Marston, as head of security at the US embassy in Paris, I feared the book might be an espionage action book. I'm not particularly fond of that type of book. However, the additional statements about disappearing booksellers and WWII Nazi collaboration connections peaked my interest. I'm so glad that they did. This debut book by Mark Pryor is a well-honed mystery story with multiple layers of intrigue. Although the story is wonderfully complex, it is at no time confusing or cumbersome. Marston fully develops his characters and presents the engaging Paris setting without onerous distension. He knows what it takes to get the job done without overdoing.
The novel begins with Hugo Marston bemoaning the fact that he is on a forced vacation from his embassy job, as idleness is not his natural state. While stopping to visit his favorite bookseller, or bouquiniste, along the Seine River, Hugo witnesses the older man's abduction at gun point. Hugo is determined to discover what happened to Max and why. As bouquinistes begin turning up dead in the river, Hugo uses his embassy resources and his ex-FBI experience to unravel a devious plot full of ghosts and murder. Aiding him in his endeavors is his friend Tom, who is a semi-retired CIA agent, visiting him in Paris. One of the books that Hugo bought from Max the last day he saw him leads Hugo to one of the most influential families in Paris and figures into Max's mysterious disappearance, too. His chance meeting with Claudia, a police reporter for Le Monde, both complicates and improves his life. She, too, will be involved in Hugo's investigation of the bouquiniste problem and its connections to the past.
Marston has written a fast, smooth moving tale that is an excellent start to the series. I'm looking forward to the next installment, The Crypt Thief.
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Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
#12 and I'm still loving Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. I am most happy for the return of Sherlock to the main action and storyline. Also, the revisiting of the Hazr brothers, whom we first encountered in Oh, Jerusalem and Justice Hall, was a welcome touch. Laurie King's deft description of the exotic Morocco setting calls to the reader like a snake charmer entrancing his graceful companion. The story hits the ground running, both physically and mentally, and it is a fascinating journey to determining who is false and who is true.
Waking up in Fez, Morocco with amnesia and a head wound, Russell must regain her bearings and find Holmes in order to prevent a political disaster. Russell must not only put the pieces of her ordeal back together, but she must figure out where Mahmoud Hazr has gone missing to and his part in the unfolding mystery and intrigue. Holmes quickly realizes that his casual visit to his distant cousin, the Resident General of Morocco from France, is to be anything but casual. The rebel leader of Riff/Emir of the Revolt, Abd el-Krim, is another key player in the maze of the Moroccan politics of survival. A small, mute boy is yet another integral part of where the twists and turns will lead.
Another great read in this series! When I started reading this series some years ago with The Beekeeper's Apprentice, I knew that I had found a special series written by an amazingly talented author. To have maintained the level of excellence after so many books guarantees that my faith was well placed in this mystery maven.