Saturday, September 8, 2007

September 2007 Reads

1. SACRED COWS by Karen E. Olson. First in a mystery series featuring Annie Seymour, a police-beat newspaper reporter in New Haven, Connecticut. Annie is a hard-edged, cynical, experienced reporter who lives a somewhat chaotic life. When she is awakened at 3 a.m. by her editor telling her there’s a dead body and to get her butt to the scene and get the story, a whole series of bizarre events is set off, eventually involving her mother’s law firm and a private eye who turns out to be a guy that she went to high school with. The situation is complicated by the fact that Annie happens to be dating the police detective in charge of the investigation, and that there’s an eager beaver young reporter trying to scoop her at every turn. The young dead woman is a bright Yale student with rich parents, but when Annie discovers from talking to her roommate that she was also employed by a high-class escort service, the higher-ups really get their knickers in a twist! Annie is a very “real” character, one I liked a lot—partly because I recognized a kindred spirit in Annie; she talks and thinks a lot like I do. (i.e., this is NOT a cozy! LOL) Excellent first in series and I will be following this one very closely! A+

2. THE LEPER’S BELL by Peter Tremayne. Thirteenth book in the Sister Fidelma series set in 660’s A.D. Ireland. Fidelma and Eadulf are beside themselves when the nurse to their baby Alchu is murdered and the baby abducted. At first it is thought that it was a planned abduction for ransom, then possibly a political abduction engineered by enemies to the north. But once Fidelma puts her emotional responses aside and resumes her logical stance and begins to investigate, she wonders if it wasn’t a personal attack on the nurse, with Alchu being an unexpected complication. Fidelma and Eadulf also grapple with whether to continue their temporary marriage, as the “year and a day” is fast coming up and they must decide whether to walk away from the arrangement or commit to one another permanently. The stress of Alchu’s abduction shows each of them a side to the other previously unseen, and it’s unsettling for both of them. I always enjoy a visit to Tremayne’s Ireland and it was far too long since my last foray there, so this was a thoroughly enjoyed treat for me. A.

3. POLTERGEIST by Kat Richardson. Second in the Harper Blaine “Greywalker” paranormal series, featuring a young woman P.I. who died for two minutes and since that time is able to walk the world that exists between the living and the dead, known as “the Grey.” In this book, Harper is hired by a college professor who is running experiments to see if the collective minds of a group of people can make their own poltergeist. He wants her to figure out whom if anyone is “faking” some phenomenon that have begun to crop up, or else authenticate that the experiment has worked and is valid. When one of the participants of the group ends up dead—beaten and mangled—in his apartment, Harper sets out to find whether the energy entity that has become Celia, the poltergeist, did Mark in or whether he was killed by someone all too human. I enjoyed this book a lot; it certainly did have an interesting premise and storyline, though it did take me a good 50 pages to really get sucked in to the story. The only downfall for me is that Harper still feels somewhat “dry” to me—even though we learn more *about* her, what she likes, dislikes, what’s important to her, we haven’t yet really been shown who she is…the messy parts, the ‘soul’ of Harper seem to be sitting there just beyond our grasp. It’s hard to explain just what I mean. Still, this is a series I enjoy. One thing I really appreciate is that there isn’t a bunch of gratuitous sex and continual sexual tension between Harper and every male she encounters like in some paranormal books. If I want romance and erotica, I’ll read books from those genres! A-.

4. DEAD TO THE WORLD by Charlaine Harris. Sookie Stackhouse “Southern Vampire” mystery number four. Speaking of gratuitous sex and sexual tension….AAAAGH! This book is full of it. I’ve enjoyed the previous Sookie stories, and yeah, there was some of that…and some sexual tension is almost necessary to the story line. But in this book, every male that crosses Sookie’s path causes her to salivate, for heaven’s sake! The frequent descriptions of the various males’ physiques got really old after awhile. I’m not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, but this series seems to be headed the way of the Anita Blake series, with sex just for the sake of sex being a major theme. Maybe this is what most of the fans of paranormal books want, but as for me--no thank you. If I want erotic titillation, I’ll hook up with some good erotica! I finished this book, and do mostly enjoy the storyline, but for the reasons stated above I really lowered my grade and I do believe I’m just going to stop reading the series right here. It’s okay, but I’d rather read books where I’m not rolling my eyes every few pages when the heroine is drooling on some guy. C+

5. THE SIGN OF THE BOOK by John Dunning. Fourth in the Cliff Janeway, ex-cop and book dealer series. I waited quite a time between the previous book and this one as I was quite disappointed in it after the stellar first couple in the series. This one was back on track and I enjoyed it very much although I did figure out almost right away who the killer was. I didn’t guess the circumstances of the murder, but my gut told me whodunit. Cliff travels to small town Paradise to begin investigation on a case for Erin, his girlfriend, who’s a lawyer. This case involves Erin’s childhood friend Laura, who’s been accused of killing her husband. The husband also had an interesting collection of books that figure into the case as well. Our intrepid hero puts himself against snowstorms, the dark of night, a crazed deputy, a drunken grandfather and a whole host of other obstacles to help get at the truth. Enjoyable and once again looking forward to the next in series. A.

6. SNAKE AGENT by Liz Williams. First Detective Inspector Chen series in this genre-bending fantasy/mystery. Chen lives and works in a slightly futuristic Singapore as an investigator of paranormal crimes. He’s been to Hell and back several times—literally—even marrying a demon and bringing her out of Hell, which is strictly forbidden. With Inaria comes a family retainer—a teakettle that morphs into a badger! (My favorite character! LOL) I loved the premise and the world Williams paints in this book. When he begins investigating why the ghost of a young girl never made it to Heaven, he ends up in working with one of Hell’s investigators, a demon named Zhu Irzh, who is working on another case on the side for the Ministry of Wealth, trying to figure out what the devious Ministry of Epidemics is up to. Eventually the cases tie together and Chen and Zhu Irzh do a lot of working together. Hard to describe this book or to include all the crazy sub-plots; you really have to read it! Excellently written, fresh and different and very enjoyable. Looking for the next! A+

7. THE BURNING GIRL by Mark Billingham. Fourth in the DI Tom Thorne British police procedural in which a cold case that retired cop Carol Chamberlain is working on ties together with a current one featuring rival crime gangs. Twenty years ago, Gordon Rooker attempted to set the daughter of a local crime boss on fire—but he got the wrong girl, instead igniting her best friend Jessica who was horribly burned and committed suicide a couple of years later. Carol worked on that case and now she’s getting phone calls saying “I burned her.” The problem is, Rooker is still in prison. Upon being questioned by Thorne, he says he didn’t really do it, though he confessed at the time because being in prison was safer than outside where the crime boss who hired him would have easier access to kill him for botching the job. A sudden string of dead gang members between Billy Ryan’s gang and a new Turkish group sets up a task force throwing Thorne into the fray with a DCI he’s crossed swords with before. I really enjoyed this one—hard to put down, with a few twists and turns to the plot though nothing really surprising as I did anticipate what was going to happen before it did. A.

8. AGATHA RAISIN AND THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS CURATE by M.C. Beaton. Thirteenth Agatha Raisin book in which a new man comes to down to perk up Aggie’s flagging interest. The curate sent to help out Rev. Bloxby is a nearly perfect, angelic looking man who has the locals flocking to church every Sunday. Some people can see through his guise and refer to him as “slimy” but Agatha is smitten and accepts an invitation to dinner at the home of an elderly parishioner where he’s being housed. When he turns up dead the next day, guess who’s thrown headfirst into the fray? With her usual “Watsons” Roy Silver and Sir Charles Fraith out of the picture, Agatha’s new neighbor John Armitage, the author of detective stories, helps her investigate. Enjoyable visit to Carsely, and in this one, Agatha seems to show her soft side a bit more. A.

9. THE VOICE OF THE VIOLIN by Andrea Camilleri. Fourth in the Salvo Montalbano Italian police procedural series in which Salvo discovers the body of a beautiful young woman in her home when he stops to find out why the home’s owner has not responded to a note he left when one of their police cars collides with her car that was parked outside the home. As usual, the politics of the department and the country take the case over and Salvo must investigate on the sly after being taken off the case by the new commissioner. The gruff and grumpy Montalbano shows his vulnerable side too, briefly. A quick, enjoyable visit to Sicily where the author puts you right in the heart of the place, evoking smells, tastes and views that leave little to the imagination. Good stuff! A.

10. THE AWFUL SECRET by Bernard Knight. Fourth in the Crowner John medieval mystery series set in 1200’s Devon, UK. When a Templar Knight—or rather, an ex-Templar who has now left the order—who fought with John in Outremer seeks his assistance while he waits for a cohort to arrive, the coroner reluctantly agrees. When he finds out that Gilbert is now considered a heretic who has an ‘awful secret’ about the Church that the Templars are suppressing, and is being pursued not only by three higher-ups in the Templar Order, but by a papal nuncio who is part of the Inquisition, John curses the moment he pledged his help, but stands by his word. When the ex-Templar turns up dead, obviously murdered, John must then investigate even though his suspicions lie with the Church, whom he has no authority to question. A secondary plot deals with piracy off the coast of Devon and brings the Crowner to Ilfracombe and Barnstaple, which are familiar to me as my DH’s sister lives in that area. I did guess the bad guy way ahead of time in this one and didn’t think the story was quite as good as some of the others in this series—or maybe I’ve just been “DaVinci Coded” to death—but I still enjoyed it as I like the setting and the characters in this series.

11. BURY THE LEAD by David Rosenfelt. Third in the Andy Carpenter, defense lawyer in New Jersey series. When a serial killer begins calling a local newspaper reporter with details of the killings, the city is in thrall watching the story unfold. When the reporter is found at the scene of the fourth victim with a head injury, the apparent victim of the killer, things get tense. When it’s learned that the murdered woman is a high-powered political watchdog, and some of the reporter’s statements don’t ring true, he’s suddenly arrested for her murder, and Andy’s on board as his defense attorney. I really like this series! The book is well-plotted with plenty of twists, turns and red herrings, although I have to admit I had one of those “that’s the bad guy!” moments when the person in question was introduced, I had no idea how or why the killings were done, and I doubted my gut feeling a few times along the way. You gotta read to the end of these books, that’s for sure! Well done. A

12. THE HORSE YOU CAME IN ON by Martha Grimes. Twelfth in the Chief Inspector Richard Jury series. In this book, Jury and Sgt. Wiggins and his friend Melrose Plant are reluctantly off to America, to investigate two different murders at the behest of two different friends, wandering into the literary world of Johns Hopkins University, Edgar Allan Poe and a football franchise for Baltimore! This was another of Grimes’ weaker Jury novels; I don’t know if it was the setting, if being away from the UK weakened the book or what, but it wasn’t a story I enjoyed overly much aside from being glad for a visit with all the recurring characters. There were a lot of side trips away from the mystery part of the story and it wasn’t, in general, very coherent nor cohesive. C+

13. ENEMY OF GOD by Bernard Cornwell. Second in the Warlord Chronicles, his Arthurian trilogy, told from the viewpoint of Derfel Cadarn, a Saxon slave boy who has now become one of Arthur’s greatest warriors. A heady blend of historical fiction and fantasy with the retelling of the Arthurian legend in a very plausible way, without a whole lot of romantic nonsense—there are love stories within the story, but it’s primarily a tale of war, greed, and hunger for power, which makes it (in my opinion) a much more likely scenario than the fairy tale type Arthur stories. I particularly enjoyed Cornwell’s treatment of Arthur’s “Round Table.” LOL It’s impossible to begin to talk about this book very much without giving away too much. I can only advise anyone who enjoys Arthurian legends to check this series out—it truly is excellent and has a place firmly on my Keeper shelf. A+