In this second addition to my review of various authors and books eligible for the Bouchercon Anthony Awards, nominations for which are due on April 30th from Bouchercon attendees, I thought it might be helpful to remind those nominating of the different categories. These categories include the following: Best Novel, Best First Novel, Best Paperback Original, Best Critical or Nonfiction Book, Best Short Story, Best Anthology or Collection, Best Young Adult Novel, and Best Crime Fiction Audiobook. And, remember that to be eligible for this year's (2016) Anthony, these titles must have a first time publication date of 2015 for North America. There are instances, especially some British titles that have an earlier publication date for that country, but if their first publication date in North America is 2015, then they are eligible. So, here are four more reviews of eligible books for the current Anthony nomination ballot. They include What You See by Hank Phillippi Ryan from Forge Books (eligible for Best Novel), Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante by Susan Elia MacNeal from Bantam (eligible for Best Paperback Original), The Child Garden by Catriona McPherson from Midnight Ink (eligible for Best Novel), and A Killing at the Creek by Nancy Allen.
What You See by Hank Phillippi Ryan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Author Hank Phillippi Ryan consistently wins awards for her writing--the Agatha, the Anthony, the Macavity, the Daphne du Maurier, and the Mary Higgins Clark awards. She has also won awards as the on-air investigative reporter for Boston's NBC affiliate--33 Emmys and 13 Edward R. Murrows, as well as others. So, you really don't have to take my word for it that Hank is brilliant, and her writing reflects that. However, that won't stop me from bragging on this favorite author who provides me with some of my best reading every year. She masterfully sets up plots and characters that will engage you in the perfect timing and complexity of connections. You won't get lost in these layers, except in the best possible way of relishing their relevance. What You See is the fourth book in the Jane Ryland series set in Boston, and it will please mightily the established fans of the series, and it will have first time readers racing back to the previous three novels.
In What You See, Jane Ryland is between jobs, after quitting her newspaper reporter's position due to the paper's lack of ethics, which Jane couldn't live with. She is in the middle of an interview with television station Channel 2 when a story breaks in front of City Hall, a stabbing. As no one else is available at the station, the news director sends Jane, an on-the-spot try-out. With Jane trying to work out the whole work conflict with boyfriend Detective Jake Brogan, it's a mixed blessing. The scene at City Hall is frantic with the stabbing victim pronounced dead and bystanders being detained for possible eye witness accounts or cellphone video/pictures. It's both a plethora of possibility and a dearth of decipherability. Finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. Jake and his partner Paul DeLuca are already on the scene giving out assignments and trying to keep control when Jane arrives on the fringes of the activity. A young man who has renamed himself Bobby Land and is hoping to make a name for himself as a photographer latches onto Jane and steers her toward an alley where Jake and DeLuca have engaged with two men, one claiming to have captured the killer and the supposed suspect unconscious from being beaten. Jane and Jake inevitably meet up in this alley, and the old question of maintaining a relationship with conflicting interests is back in play. And, in the middle of it all, Jane receives a call from her sister informing Jane that the nine-year-old daughter of her fiancé is missing with her step-father, with just days to go before the wedding.
Then, it gets complicated. Neither the murder victim or the injured man in the alley have any ID on them, making motive and solving the case that much harder. Jane is juggling trying to establish a toe-hold with Channel 2 while her family situation escalates into a possible kidnapping of young Gracie by the stepdad. Jake is finding a murder in broad daylight in front of City Hall is full of challenges and directions of interest that have far reaching connections and consequences. And, how do Jane and Jake fit in a relationship in two worlds at odds with one another? The answers will take readers on a thrilling, great paced trek of family secrets, merciless ambition, and deceitful maneuverings.
Thanks, Hank Phillippi Ryan for another absorbing story featuring Jane Ryland. What You See is a vision of great writing and entertainment.
Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante by Susan Elia MacNeal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There is lots going on in Susan Elia MacNeal's fifth Maggie Hope book, but then, it is December 1941, only weeks after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States has entered this second war to end all wars. Maggie Hope has traveled to Washington, D.C. with Prime Minster Winston Churchill and his two aides, Maggie's close friend David Green and Maggie's old/new boyfriend John Sterling, on a mission to shore up America's support for the war and ensure that President Roosevelt is committed to a campaign in Europe first and foremost. Although Maggie has become a highly skilled spy, she is posing as Churchill's secretary on this trip, a trip that brings her back to the country in which she was raised by her aunt. Born to British parents, whose twisted history has been revealed in previous books, Maggie was spirited out of England as a baby to be raised by an aunt who could give her a stable environment. So, it is with much excitement that this British/American/British young woman embraces the nation's capital.
MacNeal has captured the personalities and machinations of this historic meeting between Roosevelt and Churchill with the aplomb of the proverbial fly on the wall. A meeting of such importance required the social graces as well as the diplomatic skills, and the author brings both the seriousness and the entertainment aspects of the White House during this time brilliantly to life. Diplomacy and social graces were indeed in play together when during the Children's Hour, Roosevelt's cocktail hour, the President and the Prime Minister had quite different ideas about the perfect martini. Descriptions of the interior of the White House reflect the keeping up appearances of the Presidency part of the building as opposed to the family's quarters, where the shabbiness of the previous lean, economic years is evident. Eleanor Roosevelt plays a prominent role in this book (hence, Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante), and the development of her as an historical character with the grace and dutiful First Lady and as a passionate, compassionate social activist was achieved by carefully distributed dialogue and interactions with Maggie.
The Churchill party has only just arrived when Maggie becomes entrenched in the problems of Mrs. Roosevelt, as it appears someone is trying to drag the First Lady into a scandalous situation involving murder and accusations directed at Eleanor's decency. When the temporary secretary for Mrs. Roosevelt fails to appear for work and Maggie and Mrs. Roosevelt find the young woman dead in the woman's apartment, Maggie knows that not only is the First Lady's reputation at stake, but that a scandal of this proportion would damage the President's effectiveness and efforts to get Americans behind their entrance into the war. Maggie must now use her code-breaking, analytical, and even physical skills of espionage to uncover who is behind the attack on Mrs. Roosevelt. Churchill, realizing the importance of what's at stake, releases Maggie from his schedule to concentrate on Mrs. Roosevelt's and, in essence, America's must-solve problem.
There are other subplots weaving in and out of Maggie's activities. As author MacNeal usually does with great finesse, she brings in fascinating back story, this time the story of the impending execution of a young black man in Virginia. Mrs. Roosevelt is involved in trying to stop the execution, and, thus, Maggie becomes involved in it also. And, as usual, this story, which is based on actual events, connects to the larger story, with the feelings of Southerners in American being a thin line that President Roosevelt must walk in order to keep the South on the side of America's involvement in the war. It's an ugly look at politics, which, unfortunately, isn't a thing of the past today. Maggie's and John's relationship is at a tipping point during this trip, too. Whether or not they can overcome their pasts, which have left deep emotional scarring, is the unspoken question that must be answered. There is a most unexpected character in the book that brings Hollywood into the novel, as Walt Disney is gearing his company to make war-time movies of support for the country.
This novel is so rich with historical matter and allusions that, as a fan of historical fiction, I was thrilled. It is Susan Elia MacNeal's particular genius that blends these fascinating facts with a story of captivating consequence.
The Child Garden by Catriona McPherson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Catriona McPherson is a multi-talented author, first gaining a wide following with her Dandy Gilver series, and, while still carrying on that entertaining line of books, she has racked up numerous awards in the last few years with her suspenseful, thrilling standalone novels. Her fourth standalone, The Child Garden, is just out and already receiving high praise, and I expect it to garner award attention, too. Nobody sets up a an atmospheric thriller better than Catriona, and she then weaves into this perfect setting a story with chilling twists and turns, populated with characters who may or may not be trustworthy. As a reader, you want to know the answers as much as the main character who is desperately trying to gain these answers before more death or bloodshed. I always seem to become completely ensconced in that character in Catriona's novels who is unraveling the lies and deceits to get to the person who perpetuates evil and murder.
In The Child Garden, Gloria Harkness is a single,divorced mother living in an isolated area of Scottish countryside, inhabiting a house aptly named Rough House on a neglected estate, where a care home also is located. The care home is a residence for Gloria's son afflicted with PKAN and the elderly woman, Mrs. Drume, who owns the estate, including Rough House. Gloria's life is uneventful with a routine of going to work as a registrar, registering births, weddings, and deaths; visiting her son and Mrs. Drume in the care home; and reading books. In exchange for paying no rent, Gloria has agreed to take care of Mrs. Drume's senior dog and to rock the "rocking stone" in the backyard of Rough House twelve times a day to keep what her elderly landlady says is the devil imprisoned within. Thus has life continued for Gloria Harkness over the past ten years.
On the perfect dark and stormy night, Gloria's life is turned upside down. A chance recognition by a grade school friend results in that friend knocking on her door that moonless evening, and as she opens the door to Stephen "Stig" Tarrant, she is letting in danger and evil. Her life and the lives of those she knows will never be the same. Stig Tarrant is being chased by a past from 28 years ago when he was one of twelve students at a private school named Eden. Eden occupied the large estate house where the care home now operates. In the one and only year the school existed, a young boy lost his life there, and the children who attended school at Eden, including Stig, have had unkind fates ever since. Now, someone has set up Stig to look like the murderer of one of his old classmates, or that's what Gloria has chosen to believe when she agrees to help Stig. As Gloria investigates the lives of the other students and tries to piece together just what happened that tragic night that one student died on the grounds of the school, she uncovers far too many coincidences and encounters lie after lie, some from Stig himself. There are plenty of suspects as to who's behind the nefarious doings of past and present. Even the Devil is high on the list.
Catriona McPherson has once again given readers an on-the-edge-of-your-seat mystery thriller to fray the nerves and tax the brain. It is unpredictable, but never unfairly so. Readers will enjoy every creepy moment and probably won't mind that it haunts them afterward.
A Killing at the Creek: An Ozarks Mystery by Nancy Allen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I don't normally start with the second book in a thus-far two book series, but A Killing at the Creek was recommended to me, and Nancy Allen and this book appeared on a favorite blog, so I jumped into the sequel first. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel with the setting of the Ozarks being a new one for me. It's always interesting to explore new areas through novel reading, and Allen now has me hooked on the Ozarks and this series. I'll be ordering the first book after I finish my review of the first.
The main character of this story is Elsie Arnold, an assistant prosecutor in McCown County, Missouri. She's highly adept at her job, but not so much at her personal life. Struggling with the head prosecutor, Madeline Thompson, who seems to throw obstacles in Elsie's career track often and with malice of forethought, Elsie is hoping for a big case in which Madeline can't ignore the younger attorney's competence. And, then a rare murder case lands in McCown County, and Elsie manages to attach herself as a co-counsel, next to 2nd chair and newcomer, chief assistant Chuck Harris. Also involved in the investigation and case is Elsie's current amour, Chief Detective Bob Ashlock. The accused is not what Elsie expected in her first murder case, as the person charged with cutting a middle-aged woman's throat is a fifteen-year-old boy. And, the victim had been driving a bright yellow school bus, which the boy kept driving after the body was dumped. Though the boy is found on the bloody bus, he claims he is innocent of the murder. So, Elsie has all she can handle in determining whether the prosecution office has the right perpetrator, and when Chuck Harris loads Elsie down with more and more responsibility in the case, she must prove herself indefatigable in the face of the burden.
Author Nancy Allen has created an intriguing series, and I'm delighted to have found her at the beginning of it. I'll be reading The Code of the Hills, first book in the series, very soon, and I'll be waiting for the next installment with heightened anticipation.