Wednesday, August 11, 2010


1. MISSING MARK by Julie Kramer. (AUDIO) #2 Riley Spartz 'amateur sleuth' mystery set in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul. Riley is an investigative television reporter trying to come up with an interesting story for the upcoming "sweeps week" when ratings are even more important than usual. Perusing the want ads in the newspaper, she sees an ad that piques her interest: "For Sale: Wedding dress, never worn." Intrigued, she answers the ad on the pretense of wanting to buy the dress to learn why the bride-to-be never got to wear the dress. It turns out she was left at the altar, the groom vanishing into thin air about six months ago, and yet Riley is wondering why no one has made much of an effort to find him. She comes clean to Madeline Post, the bride, and confesses to her real purpose, and convinces her that doing the story might bring new information about where Mark, her fiance, may have gone. When Riley starts investigating, she finds a lot of interesting secrets about the groom--and the bride, and several other people. Her boss isn't really interested in the story, and wants Riley to focus on covering the kidnapping of a huge lake bass from the Underwater Adventures park at the Mall of America. A radical animal rights groups supposedly is taking credit, but that smells fishy to Riley. It's hard to get into details without giving too much away here--but suffice it to say, this was an awesome book! I am not a fan of the TV news--or news in general really, and much of the reason for that is explained in this series by the author who used to be a TV news producer herself. It's sad that so much of what passes for news is drivel designed to increase ratings rather than actually report newsworthy things. That said, I really like Riley, and the author is an obvious native to the area as the whole book is soaked with the ambiance of Minnesota. I think even if you don't know the Twin Cities, you'll still like this, though. While I guessed at the bad guy fairly early on, there were a couple of plot twists I didn't see coming at all. And I learned something too, about a subject I'd never heard of before, "face blindness." How odd! Anyway--read it! Great book! Or even listen to it like I did. The reader, Bernadette Dunn--who was a new-to-me narrator--did a spectacular job! A+

2. VEIL OF LIES by Jeri Westerson. #1 Crispin Guest "medieval noir" mystery set in 1380's England. Crispin is a fallen knight, set to be hung for being part of a treasonous plot against Richard II. He was given a last-minute reprieve; his life was spared, but he was stripped of lands, property and title and now makes a living on the mean streets of London, living hand to mouth and shunned by those of his former class. Known as 'the Tracker,' he investigates, finds things, tracks people down and cobbles together a bleak living with tiny living quarters above a tinker's shop. Despite his fall from grace, Crispin has little sympathy for those of the lower classes that he's now forced to hobnob with, and still believes he is above them, and of a better class. It's now eight years after his disgrace. When Crispin is asked by a wealthy cloth merchant to follow his wife and find out if she's cheating on him, he takes the case though it's only his empty pockets that make him do so. When he returns to report the wife's infidelity and collect payment, Crispin finds Nicholas Walcote dead--murdered by stabbing. The local sheriff is called in, and as in most private eye cases, bumbles through, making headway only by listening to Crispin's observations. When the widow--whom Crispin learns was once a chambermaid before marrying her master--wants to hire him to find a religious relic that her husband was said to have hidden, he is reluctant, but a fat coin purse persuades him otherwise--and he is intrigued by Mrs. Walcote, as well. Eventually links are shown to international trade sabotage and a plot against the government. I really enjoyed this book--the writing style was easy to read, the characters very interesting, and even though Crispin could be somewhat of a butthead at times, I ultimately liked him too. Lots of great historical detail--sometimes even a bit too much...I am not terribly interested in fashion, whether it be modern or historical, and this book did have a lot of descriptions of the clothing, which I admit to sometimes skimming a bit. Otherwise--great! A.

3. EVIL UNDER THE SUN by Agatha Christie. (AUDIO) One of the Hercule Poirot mysteries, read by David Suchet, who plays the detective in the TV series. Poirot is on holiday, at the English seaside in August. No one quite believes he's not there working on something, though. And of course when the body of beautiful former actress Arlena Stewart Marshall turns up on a deserted cove, many suspects--including her husband and her lover--come to the fore as Poirot helps the local police with their inquiries. But nearly everyone who had a motive and large enough hands to strangle her has an ironclad alibi--including being in Poirot's company at the time of the killing. So who did the dastardly deed and how? Suchet is a delightful reader, getting a variety of accents, from Poirot's himself (of course!) to various English regional accents to an American Texas drawl. No one plots a mystery better than Christie, and though I had read this book many years ago, I'd forgotten how it was done, so it was delightful to listen along as the story unfolds until finally Poirot unveils the secret at the end. Wonderful stuff, and will definitely be getting more of these to listen to. A+

4. THE FLANDERS PANEL by Arturo Perez-Reverte. A meaty, rich and literary mystery set in Spain. Julia, an art restorer, has become infatuated with the painting she's currently working on, The Game of Chess painted by one of the Flemish masters, Pieter Van Huys. (The artist is real, the painting fictional.) In the painting, two men play chess while a woman in black reads a book in the background, and Julia discovers a hidden inscription via x-ray, in Latin which translates to 'Who Killed the Knight?' Does the inscription refer to the man in the picture--a knight who was indeed killed by a crossbow some months after the painting was done--or the chess knight? Julia's intrigued by the story the painting tells and begins researching its history, when she receives a card with a chess move on it. Her friend and mentor, Cesar, an older antiquarian collector, helps her locate a chess master, Munoz, who assists Julia in replaying the chess match backwards to see if they can determine who 'took' the knight in the game. When an art historian (and former lover) Julia asked to look into the painting ends up dead in suspicious circumstances, Julia becomes frightened but also more drawn into the intrigue. I liked this story, although it was (like most heavy literary mysteries) slow-going in places, and also liked it despite the fact that I don't play chess--I think it would be much more interesting to someone who does, as the book came illustrated with diagrams of the various moves which meant essentially nothing to me. I was surprised at the ending as I had someone else altogether in mind for the bad guy, and the book was quite suspenseful as it went on. It wasn't a book I was crazy about but was quite good and filled the bill as the "something different" I was looking for when I picked it up. B+

5. THE WINDS OF CHANGE by Martha Grimes Number umpteen in Scotland Yard's Chief Superintendent Richard Jury series. Jury once again teams up with Melrose Plant--this time posing as a "turf specialist" at the estate of a wealthy man where an unknown woman was found murdered. Cmdr. Brian Macalvie has called Jury in and he goes willingly, believing there may be a connection between the murdered woman and the murder of a young girl in London. There is a question of a pedophile ring, of cases of mistaken identity, and as always, deceit and treachery. Jury is still recovering physically from the gunshot wound he suffered a few months ago, but his brain is as active as always, making connections that others don't see. I love the characters in this series--after reading so many of them, they have become dear friends, although I still find it a bit ludicrous that Jury has Melrose posing as all these weird 'specialists' in fields he knows nothing about. This mystery was actually quite intriguing and I was sucked into the story from the beginning. This was one of the better recent entries I've read--some have been rather disappointing but this was back on track, if a bit predictable. B+

6. THE VARIOUS HAUNTS OF MEN by Susan Hill. First in a police procedural series set in the fictional UK town of Lafferton. Although it's billed as a "Simon Serrailler" series, we barely get to meet this Chief Inspector and nothing is told from his point of view til the very end. We spend most of our time with his new DS, Freya Graffham, newly installed, a transfer from the Metropolitan Police in London. She's looking for a little peace and quiet and time away after a brief but disastrously disheartening marriage. When the owner of a small care home for dementia patients calls in at the police station to report one of her employees missing, Freya investigates briefly and gets a feeling that something is 'off' about the disappearance. When a second person, a young depressed girl also vanishes, her boss gives the go-ahead for a more in-depth investigation and Freya discovers several other missing people from the town that have as yet gone unexplained. They are of both sexes, a variety of ages and backgrounds, and seemingly have nothing in common. We know what's going on, as some chapters are written from the POV of the person who has taken these people--we just don't know who he is, although I did guess that about halfway through. It's still very interesting to watch Freya and her DC make the connections, often relying on intuition as to what clues are important.
The story itself is wonderful with great details about the town and surroundings, the settings, and Freya's life. There's a surprise ending that takes your breath away, and some parts of the story and some characters that don't have a whole lot of connection to the main problem, but are interesting nonetheless. What threw me off is the publisher's calling this the "Serrailler" series...for unless we actually get to see Simon Serrailler in action more next time, to me it would be best just called the Lafferton series, as we're introduced to many other characters that we know much better than Simon. Although he's intriguing, he's still nothing more than a cardboard cutout of a character at this point. A.

7. A FOUNTAIN FILLED WITH BLOOD by Julia Spencer-Fleming. #2 Rev. Clare Fergusson/Sheriff Russ Van Alstyne mystery set in Miller's Kill, NY. When the local medical examiner is badly beaten up, followed by savage beating to a video store owner, Clare begins to suspect the attacks as hate crimes against homosexuals and is frustrated when Russ won't alert the public to be extra wary. Russ fears the public panicking, or other hate mongers perpetrating copycat crimes. But when a third man--a developer in the area to build a luxury spa complex--is killed, and Clare finds the body, in her shaken state, she makes a passionate statement to a reporter about the connections, angering Russ beyond words. She decides to redeem herself by looking more closely into the developer's dealings, and in the process does some really unbelievably stupid things, putting herself in harm's way several times. Now, I love this author's writing style. It's smooth and easy to read and the dialogue is natural and believable. I like her sense of place and I even like both Clare and Russ as individuals. The mystery I figured out fairly early on, but I often do, so that wasn't a huge problem. What I find hard to swallow are first, the continual stupid, precarious situations Clare puts herself in (a tipsy minister searching the bedroom of the host of a party she attends, who then ends up jumping out the bathroom window when he comes into the bedroom...after she's hidden there listening in on a long conversation between him and another person??) and second, the relationship between her and Russ and the continual sexual tension. If that is going to continue book to book to book, I am just plain not going to continue reading the series. He's a married man. She's a minister, and while celibacy is not a requirement of the Episcopalian church, she even says herself in this book that if a minister isn't married, chasteness is the expectation. I'm not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, but there's nothing I dislike more than a hypocrite. So to continue to play up this part of the relationship to me just seems unwise and would be annoying (to me anyway) to no end. Kill off the wife or something. Have Clare leave her post. But please don't continue on as they are. Still undecided if I will continue reading or not--as I said, I like the writing. I just get really tired of romance masquerading as mystery is all. C+

8. DEATH WILL GET YOU SOBER by Elizabeth Zelvin. #1 Bruce Kohler mystery. Bruce is an alcoholic who finds himself waking up from a blackout in the detox center in the Bowery in New York--which is considered to be pretty low. Especially since it's Christmas. The first couple of days go by in a fog, but Bruce remembers finding the body of an old man who was known to be dying of cancer in the laundry room at the detox. Bruce strikes up a friendship with a younger man named Godfrey Kettleworth, a moneyed man who must've fallen quite far to be where he is now--although he still teasingly introduces himself as God. Known as Guff to the few people whom he calls friend, he returns from his New Year's pass and dies a few hours later in a series of horrible convulsions as Bruce looks on. It's easy to write these deaths off as the natural sequelae of alcoholism, but things just don't seem right to Bruce. His childhood friend Jimmy (also an alcoholic, though sober now for several years) and Jimmy's girlfriend Barbara, also with addiction issues and now a counselor, have distanced themselves from Bruce and his hurtful alcoholic escapades over the years. But when he visits them, they both see something different in him and believe this time he may actually be serious about sobriety. Barbara encourages Bruce to look into the deaths of these people--and they later learn through the grapevine that there's been more deaths than usual among the detox client community in other facilities, too. But was Guff's death a personal matter relating to his many relatives that he'd alienated over the years? Bruce makes his tentative steps through sobriety in an effort to find out. Loved this book--loved the characters, the information about addiction and recovery and the real sense of place the author gives to New York. I've never been there, and don't really want to go, but she paints such a great picture of it that I feel I don't really have to! A.

9. WITCHES ABROAD by Terry Pratchett. #12 in publication order of the Discworld humorous fantasy series, this is a re-read for me of one of my favorites in the series in which the witches--Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax and Magrat Garlick (oh, and don't forget Greebo!) are off to "foreign parts" to try to stop an evil godmother from making people play parts in the usual fairy tales. Hilarious and yet with plenty of poignant observation about life (and DEATH) as usual. Wonderful! A++ as always.

10. HOLLY BLUES by Susan Wittig Albert. #18 in the China Bayles "herb shop" mystery series. Pecan Springs is getting ready for Christmas, and China is glad to see an upswing in business at Thyme & Seasons. The poor economy has hit small businesses hard, especially businesses that sell non-essential items, so belts are beginning to tighten a bit in the McQuaid-Bayles household. They are also adjusting to having China's niece whom she and Mike have adopted since the death of her half-brother. This will be Kate's first Christmas with them, and China wants it to be special. So obviously when Mike's crazy ex-wife Sally--mother to Brian, his teenage son--shows up at the shop, China's not thrilled. Still, in the spirit of the season, she invites Sally, who is once again down on her luck and in trouble, to stay with them over the holiday--much to McQuaid's displeasure. When China makes the invitation, she doesn't realize just how MUCH trouble Sally is in--but of course she finds out before too long. I started out listening to the audio version of this book and had to set it aside after about 5 chapters and switch to the print version, which I thankfully had on hand. The reader's voice and reading style just annoyed me, plus her voices were terrible and hard to distinguish one from another. The book takes place in Texas and as far as I remember, most of the main characters are native Texans, and yet Ruby was the only one with even a hint of a Texas accent, and it was so overdone and fake sounding it grated on my nerves. I think my enjoyment of the book was somewhat lessened by remembering that voice even when I switched to print. It was a fairly typical visit to Pecan Springs, and I liked the visit with old friends. I will definitely stick to the print version of this series in future, though! B.

11. SEEKING WHOM HE MAY DEVOUR by Fred Vargas. #2 in the Chief Inspector Adamsberg series set in France. A large wolf is killing sheep in the mountains of France, and when Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg hears about it on the news, his interest is piqued, as he grew up in the Pyrenees and is familiar with wolf lore. When a woman is killed in her sheep barn, supposedly by the same wolf, his interest heightens, as he knows wolves don't typically attack humans. When he notices his lost love, Camille, on the news report in the village where the attack takes place, he follows the story more closely. Camille, meanwhile, is on a quest of her own to find the wolf--and the man she and her lover, a Canadian wildlife researcher--believe is controlling it. Rumors spread about him being a werewolf, but that doesn't put Camille off as she travels from village to village with the shepherd and the adopted son of the woman who was killed, trying to find the man. When another human is dead, attacked the same way, Camille finally breaks down and calls Adamsberg and asks for his help since the police are not really involved in any way at this point--they believe that Suzanne was killed by a wolf, and thus there is nothing for them to investigate. Very intriguing book written in a unique style. Although I had an inkling about the bad guy fairly early on, I had no idea of the whys and wherefores, so it was still quite interesting. Adamsberg is a unique character and I much look forward to reading more in this series. A.

12. MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS by Agatha Christie (AUDIO) My umpteenth re-reading--but first listening experience--of one of my favorite mysteries of all time, and a classic from the grand dame of mystery. The Orient Express, a train heading out from Istanbul, is trapped by a snowstorm in the mountains of Yugoslavia. A man is killed--a man who, a few hours previously, had tried to hire Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, to find the person who was after him. Poirot had told him he wasn't interested but then is asked by the head of the railway company (who happened to be on board) to investigate the man's death. Which Poirot does with his usual flair and cunning mind. Excellent book, and wonderfully read by David Suchet, who portrayed Poirot on the TV series. He does the other voices brilliantly too. A+

13. THE MERMAID'S MADNESS by Jim C. Hines. #2 in the Princess light fantasy series featuring Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella (aka Snow, Talia and Danielle.) While attempting to make a yearly gift to the undine (merfolk) the royals of Lorindar find out that Lirea, daughter of the king of the undine, has killed him in a coup and is now out to conquer the human race as well. The undine attack and Queen Beatrice is stabbed with a magical knife that sucks her soul out, leaving the shell of her body barely alive. The three princesses venture off to an isolated island where Lirea's grandmother, a powerful sorceress, is living in exile, hoping that she can undo the magic of the knife and reunite Bea's soul with her body. Dangers and treachery lie ahead for the three young women as the story unfolds. I like this series, although I had my doubts--since it was billed as a sort of fairy tale Charlie's Angels. But it's mostly fairy tales with a darker twist and a very interesting backstory--happily ever after being somewhat of a myth. Looking forward to the third book in the trilogy, and then to see what interesting concept the author will come up with next. A.

14. THE FOURTH WATCHER by Timothy Hallinan. #2 Poke Rafferty mystery set in Bangkok, Thailand. Poke comes face to face with a ghost from his past--his father, Frank Rafferty, who left he and his mother and moved to China when Poke was sixteen and whom he's not seen since. Frank is in trouble, and he thinks Poke may be as well, simply by virtue of his kinship. A well-connected Colonel Chu is after Frank, and he is a ruthless man who stops at nothing to get what he wants. When a North Korean counterfeiting scheme affects Poke's girlfriend Rose's housecleaning business because of some fake bills her business partner received from the bank, he must deal with a nasty US agent investigating the counterfeit bills on top of his father's reappearance--and the discovery that he has a full-grown half-sister too, it's about all the poor man can handle. On the up side though, Rose finally accepts his marriage proposal, but they have to get these two intersecting problems sorted out before they can begin to make any wedding plans. All I can say about this book is WOW! It's almost unputdownable--although of course I had to reluctantly do so, as work tends to get in the way--a real rollercoaster ride through Bangkok and it's seedier side as Poke tries to deal with these two urgent, life-threatening situations without getting any of his friends and family killed or jailed. I absolutely love Poke and his family, love the author's writing style and the ambiance he is able to create just by stringing a few words together. I have the third book in the series here waiting for me, and I'm sure it's not going to be too long before it calls my name. A+

15. THE ELIXIR OF DEATH by Bernard Knight. #10 Crowner John mystery set in medieval Devon county, UK. When the dead bodies of Thorgils, a ship's captain and his crew wash up in the mouth of the river along with their battered ship, Crowner John first believes it's a case of straightforward piracy. But further investigation makes him think that something else is afoot, and he's right. There's another plot against King Richard, set up by none other than Prince John--with the help of John's brother-in-law, former Sheriff Richard de Revelle. They've brought an alchemist to Devon from Outremer to work with a local alchemist in an attempt to turn base metals into gold that John can then use in his efforts to overthrow his brother from the throne. Since Thorgils is the husband of one of John's former mistresses, he feels honor-bound to get to the cause of his death, and before long, the vicious murder and decapitation of a manor lord with a similar stab wound to Thorgils' begin to make the tenuous connection between the two crimes--John and his crew are off across the county asking questions and gleaning information over pots of ale in local taverns. On a personal note, Thomas, John's defrocked clerk, is reinstated by the church and apologized to for wrongfully removing him from the priesthood, having been falsely accused of raping a young female student. And John is once again trying to balance his time between his duties as Crowner, his mistress Nesta at the Bush Inn and his loathsome wife Matilda. Enjoyable as always, with great characters and a wonderful sense of place and time. A.

16. TEA TIME FOR THE TRADITIONALLY BUILT by Alexander McCall Smith. #10 Ladies No.1 Detective Agency cozy mystery set in Botswana. Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi investigate a local football team at the behest of their owner who can't understand why such a talented team has suddenly stopped winning. He thinks someone has been paid to throw games and he wants the Ladies to find out who it is. Meanwhile, Phuti Radiphuti, Mma Makutsi's fiance, unknowingly hires her arch enemy, Violet Septholo to work as a saleswoman in the bed department at his Double Comfort Furniture Store. Mma Makutsi is certain that Violet is after her fiance, but knows she is likely to drive Phuti away if she says anything. She and Mma Ramotswe puzzle out how to approach the situation. And it's a sad day for Mma Ramotswe, as her tiny white van finally coughs its last breaths and must be replaced by a medium-sized blue van. A great visit as usual, not much of a mystery, just some wonderful characters and an ambiance that can't be beat. A.

17. THE CALLING by Inger Ash Wolfe First in the Hazel Micallef mystery series set in small-town Canada. Hazel is a Detective Inspector in a small town and she's been clamoring for years to get a "real" chief at their station but has been constantly put off by the higher-ups, saying no one more senior is needed since major crime is so rarely a problem. She's sixty-one, nearing retirement age, has a chronic back pain problem and likes her booze rather too much, and lives with her elderly (but still spry) mother, who is the former mayor. When an elderly citizen of the town is found murdered in her home, and brutally so, Hazel begs to differ about the lack of need for more assistance. Delia Chandler was dying and it's believed she invited someone into her home to help with an assisted suicide, but that the person then took things to another level. The killer was very meticulous and left very few clues to go on. Another killing not too far away a couple of days later makes Hazel think they are dealing with a serial killer, even though there are notable differences. Hazel again appeals for help and is turned down, so she musters what forces she can and begins investigating--not always strictly following procedure--and to her horror, discovers that this killer has been working his away across Canada from the west and that his likely victims number in the double digits over the past couple of months. As the investigation continues with Hazel's renegade style dictating the course, Hazel tracks the killer but also gets herself in some hot water with the higher-ups. I did see the plot twist at the end coming, but this book was excellent and virtually un-put-down-able. Hazel was well-fleshed and an interesting character from the get-go, and the killer as twisted and strange as they come. Very much looking forward to the next in series and getting to know Hazel's friends and family better too. Highly recommended! A+

Current reads: Listening to A MURDEROUS PROCESSION by ARIANA FRANKLIN in audio from the library. In print, reading LOVE IS THE BOND by M.R. Sellars and HARDWARE by Linda Barnes.