Monday, October 11, 2010

October 2010

1. THE STAR by David Skibbins #3 Warren Ritter "Tarot Card" mystery. Warren, formerly known as Weather Underground radical Richard Green, is determined to settle into his new life and not run away again. (Richard Green "died" in an explosion twenty odd years earlier, and Warren Ritter is one of several incarnations he has used since then.) Doing well on his meds for his bi-polar disease and with his computer hacker girlfriend Sally, he is still working on his relationship with his newfound daughter Fran. So when Fran shows up on his doorstep early one morning needing his help--she shares his bipolar gene--he steps in to do what he can. When her husband first disappears with their baby Justin, and later ends up murdered with Fran the primary suspect, he sets aside his job as a street tarot reader for a few days and investigates. He finds another blast from his past, a fellow radical who used to be a member of the Black Panthers. What connection could he possibly have to Orrin's death? And what about Fran and Orrin's minister, whom Warren discovers has a secret past? I really enjoy this series a lot--it's a shame there's only one more waiting. (Hopefully the series will continue, but the last one was published in 2008, so we shall see. The author writes very knowledgably about mental health issues and the treatment/medical system, his characters are engaging, and the mysteries interesting. This one I had sort of figured out, though not the logistics of it til the end. Anyway, another enjoyable entry in the series! A.

2. THE SHOTGUN RULE by Charlie Huston. Stand-alone noir about four teenaged boys--brothers George and Andy, and their friends Paul and Hector--each with their own family and personal demons that they try to obliterate with the usual weapons of alcohol, drugs and a concerted effort at appearing not to give a shit about anything. Minor criminals--thieving, smoking weed and drinking, getting by with doing as little schooling as possible, they go up against the Arroyo brothers, big brutes who are more hardened criminals, when their younger brother steals Andy's bike. The foursome sets up the Arroyos so that two of them get arrested, one of them shot in the leg during the arrest--and then the boys waltz in to their place and steal a bunch of their stuff--including weed, some jewelry, and unknown to the others, Paul also lifts a huge bag of crystal meth. They bring the jewelry to an older friend of theirs to fence, and make enquiries about unloading it, (Paul discreetly asking about the meth also) none of them realizing that person he's brought the stuff to was exactly the *wrong* person, which leads down a very slippery slope and into a series of events that will affect them all for the rest of their lives. Brutal and violent as per Huston's usual style, this is an excellent read if you don't mind those things. Gritty, depressing, with realistic dialogue, the story illustrates perfectly how one decision can impact everything else not only in your own life but the lives of many others. Oddly enough, despite the violent nature of the book, the title actually has nothing to do with guns as I assumed it had--it's referring to the rule involved when getting into a car and calling "shotgun!" (Who gets to ride in the front passenger seat.) LOL A

3. DOCTORED EVIDENCE by Donna Leon. While Commissario Guido Brunetti is away on vacation, an elderly woman is brutally murdered in her apartment, struck down several times with a statuette. It was presumed that her foreign maid killed her and stole some money, as she fled the police and was subsequently killed herself when they chased her and she tripped on a train track in front of an oncoming train. When Guido returns, one of the murdered woman's neighbors returns from her own time abroad and reads the stories about the dead woman and comes to the police station with information that more than likely exonerates the woman's maid, who was in the country on an illegal passport and most likely fled because of that. But if the maid didn't kill the woman, who did? There are plenty of suspects as she was a nasty woman, and a wealthy one too. Guido must investigate clandestinely as Lieutenant Scarpa, his nemesis, was in charge of the case and he doesn't believe the neighbor woman or that her evidence has any signficance. But Guido does, so he goes behind Scarpa's back to find the real killer with the help of the station's very capable secretary, Signorina Elettra. Wonderful, twisting plot, great characters, with the city of Venice itself being one of them. Plenty of drool-worthy cooking mentioned, too. Excellent as always. A.

4. A WITCH'S HALLOWEEN by Gerina Dunwich. A collection of stories, folklore, history tidbits, recipes and rituals associated with Halloween, or Samhain as Wiccans and some Pagans know it by. I started this book in September, hoping for once to finish a book about a particular Sabbat in a timely manner so as to glean some information to use for my own celebration--this time I actually did it! Unfortunately the information in this book is pretty basic and there was very little I hadn't heard or read before so I didn't really get much I could use. It would be an excellent resource for non-Pagans or people who are curious about Wicca or Paganism, though. Some of the food/beverage recipes sounded interesting, from Mandrake Wine to "Bread of the Dead." LOL B+

5. LET THE DEAD LIE by Malla Nunn (AUDIO) #2 Emmanuel Cooper mystery set in 1950's South Africa. Cooper, forced to resign from the police force due to the machinations of enemies in the Security Branch resulting from events in the first book, is now working the docks in Durban as a laborer--he's also had his race classification changed to 'mixed-race' which limits his opportunities. While he is doing his regular job he is also working a side job undercover trying to ferret out police corruption for his old boss, Major van Niekirk, who has transferred to Durban. It all goes pear-shaped when he comes across the body of a white slum kid, Jolly Marks, and his old detective's instincts kick in. He is eventually picked up and questioned in the crime, and when his landlady and her maid are also murdered, he is caught literally 'red-handed' and jailed. The Major pulls some strings to get him out of jail, but he has only 48 hours to clear his name by finding the real killer of Jolly and the two women, which leads him on a crazy chase across the seedier side of Durban and surrounding area, even involving a couple of characters from the first book. Once again, the writing style, the immersion into the culture and the times is extremely well done. Deftly plotted, well-written, and with wonderful characters, this series--and I do hope the author intends to write more!--is destined to become a favorite. It's not easy to stare apartheid in the face, but the author does a great job of making it an actual character in the story. The reader for this audio version (Saul Reichlin) did a fantastic job once again with all the different accents and set the tone for the book very well. Excellent! A+

6. MISS ZUKAS AND THE RAVEN'S DANCE by Jo Dereske. #4 Helma Zukas, library mystery set in fictional Bellhaven, WA. Helma takes over cataloguing duties at a Native American cultural center after the previous librarian (although he really wasn't accredited) is murdered--brutally, with a paper spindle shoved through his heart in the Ladies' room, clutching a Barbie doll of all things. Helma naturally feels inclined to investigate Stanley Plummer's death, especially after she has a few scary moments herself. I don't quite know why I like this series so much, but I really do. Helma is not an old woman, but she rather acts like one, sort of staid and stoic and very precise and set in her ways. Yet there is some wry humor that sometimes catches you by surprise and adds a whole different dimension to the story. The characters are well-fleshed and the stories interesting, too. I enjoyed it! A.

7. DEATH ON THE NILE by Agatha Christie (AUDIO) Classic mystery featuring the fussy Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, read by David Suchet who portrays the detective on the TV version. A wealthy young woman in Egypt on her honeymoon is killed in cold blood with a gunshot through the head while she slept. The obvious choice for murderess--her new husband's former fiancee--has an airtight alibi, so it's up to Poirot and his friend Colonel Race to figure out the whys, wherefores, and how it was done. Skillfully plotted as usual, but with rather stereotypical characters--except for the excellent Poirot himself, this was wonderfully read by Suchet with his variety of accents and of course the perfect Poirot. Always enjoyable, and though I had read this years ago, I didn't remember whodunit or how it was done til the reveal. A.

8. FAKING IT by Marianne MacDonald. Last (at least so far) in the Dido Hoare mystery series, Dido being an antiquarian bookseller in London. With her father Barnabas, a retired Oxford professor, her four-year-old son Ben and Ernie, her shop assistant, Dido buys and sells old books. When one of the many book scouts she's dealt with in the past pays her a visit after an absence of a couple of years, he's showing her some run-of-the-mill books when he gets a phone call that upsets him and he then shows her an old looking manuscript that he would like cash for immediately. Dido has him accompany her to the bank--she's very interested in the medieval-looking book--and a few hours later, Gabriel the bookseller is dead, no sign of the cash she paid him. At first glance it looks like a bike accident, but police investigators later determine he was killed elsewhere with the bike 'accident' being staged. Then a strange-looking man starts appearing around the shop and Dido's getting hang-up calls. Barnabas is also very interested in the book and they take photos of it and put it in safekeeping while he researches it to figure out what the value might be so they can sell it for (hopefully) a tidy profit. The strange man is Gabriel's friend from Amsterdam, an American artist, whose shop has just been torched. The police are interested in Ishmael Peters, but Dido just wishes he'd go away. Later she finds out that there are worse people than Peters after that manuscript, and Barnabas learns some disappointing information about it. I like this series and Dido although I have to admit she does some pretty stupid things, which is fairly par for the course for a female amateur sleuth, I guess...wouldn't be much of a story if they did the sensible thing, would there? And while I enjoy the books for the most part, something just rings somewhat false about them, especially these latest few. I can't put my finger on it, but I think it stems partly from the fact that the book veers sharply from providing too much detail in some parts to skimming and leaving out too much in other parts. Much of Dido's day-to-day life doesn't seem to be too consistent with what the mother of a four-year-old boy would be doing, maybe. Not sure. At any rate, this is the last in the series at least for now, but it feels as though it was 'left hanging' so I do hope the author is able to write at least one more to close the book on Dido and family properly. I actually wish she would continue the series but make it about Barnabas, whom I find much more interesting. B.

9. MURDER IN THE MARAIS by Cara Black. #1 Aimee LeDuc mystery set in Paris, France. Aimee is a private investigator who took over her father's business after his death, her specialty being computer espionage. So when she is approached by an old friend of her father's to retrieve an old photograph and deliver it to a woman in the Jewish quarter of Paris, Aimee balks at first. The pay is good for what seems to be a simple job--until she finds the woman she's to make the delivery to dead in her home with a swastika emblazoned on her forehead. Soli Hecht, the old friend, then delivers a large sum of money to Aimee to find her killer--and as she and her business partner Rene are behind on paying the bills, she dives headfirst into this case that has its roots back in the days during the war when many French Jews were carted off to the concentration camps. Why would Lili Stein be killed all these years later? What did she know and whom did it threaten? Aimee must find these answers before her own life becomes expendable to someone who has some very dark secrets to protect. I really got sucked into this story almost from the first paragraph, despite the fact that I really am not a fan of much of anything French. I liked Aimee right away--she's plucky and independent, yet not invulnerable nor infallible either. There's an interesting cast of secondary characters and the story itself was also quite intriguing, even though I figured out the bad guy well before the end. Definitely will be continuing on with this series. A.

10. BEFORE THEY ARE HANGED by Joe Abercrombie. #2 First Law fantasy trilogy. This second book furthers the stories of the motley mix of characters introduced in book one, some of whom think others among them are dead. Scattered to the corners of the globe, traveling in groups on very different missions, our friends experience the travails of war--both open war and impending war. Bayaz (the First of the Magi) travels with Loren Ninefingers, Jezal dan Luthar and others in search of an ancient magical relic on the other side of the world. Threetrees, Black Dow, Dogman and their crew join Colonel West, who is trying to protect Crown Prince Ladisla and his entourage, who are off to war and totally ill-equipped for it, having led lives at court as spoiled royalty and never been in battle. Sand dan Glokta and his Practicals are off to Durgosta where he is to become Superior Inquisitor of the city and investigate what happened to his predecessor, who seems to have vanished off the face of the earth. A very interesting, widely differing group of characters in a stark, unforgiving, war-torn world. Not your usual unicorns and faeries type fantasy, I would call this series more of a dark fantasy, and definitely not for the prim, proper or faint of heart. I really enjoy this series and look forward to the third one, which should tie all these threads together nicely. There was a little bit of the 'middle book' curse to it, in that the book couldn't really end and have a story that was self-inclusive, but it did do a wonderful job of progressing the various storylines along. A.

11. AN INCOMPLETE REVENGE by Jacqueline Winspear #5 Maisie Dobbs historical mystery set in 1931 England. Once again, two cases intersect when Maisie is consulted by James Compton, her benefactor's son, to investigate some incidences occurring in a village where the company is thinking of buying a brickworks. They want to make sure that the area is stable and that there won't be problems if and when they purchase and take over the company. Meanwhile, Maisie's assistant Billy Beale is on his holiday and off to that same area of Kent with his family to pick hops as they do every year. When the young sons of a friend of Billy's working on the farm are accused of theft from the local Lord--who just happens to be the same fellow Compton's are possibly buying the brickworks from--Maisie agrees to investigate that case at the same time as long as she'll be in the neighborhood. Maisie also gets to find out more about a part of her heritage that she has not explored much--her maternal grandmother was a gypsy and they figure prominently in this mystery. I really enjoy this series, more with each book. The mysteries aren't terribly complicated or difficult, but the settings, characters, atmosphere conveyed and the teaching/learning that occurs each book is also wonderful. In this book I learned a bit more about gypsies and also about hop picking in that era. Looking forward to the next! A.

12. BAD FAITH by Aimee and David Thurlo. #1 Sister Agatha mystery set in a cloistered monastery in New Mexico. When the monastery's chaplain collapses and dies during a Mass at the monastery and it's later determined by the coroner to be poison, the sisters are the obvious first choices for suspects. Sister Agatha is one of only two externs--nuns who deal with the outside world--and she is absolutely certain that it wasn't anyone within the cloister who would harm the priest they all revered. When the local sheriff--an old flame of Sister Agatha's from school days--seems determined to disrupt the cloister's life and routine, she is just as determined to investigate and find the real culprit so they can get back to normal. I did figure the mystery out well in advance, but wasn't sure of the whys and wherefores, just knew 'who' had done it. I wasn't sure I'd like this book--in fact I started reading it because I was looking to do a bit of a culling from my TBR. But even though it's in a religious setting and there are parts where I tended to roll my eyes, mostly I was just able to see Sister Agatha as a human being. I think she had me hooked in the first chapter when she revealed her name for the old, rickety, frequently-broken-down car the monastery owned--the Antichrysler. LOL! Anyway, it was an overall enjoyable book and I likely will read at least a couple more in the series to see if my enjoyment continues. B+

13. MURDER ON BANK STREET by Victoria Thompson. #10 Gaslight mystery featuring widowed midwife Sarah Brandt in early 1900's New York. Sarah's friend Det. Sgt. Frank Malloy continues the investigation into Sarah's husband's murder several years previously, chasing down leads obtained in the last book. He believes the killer was the father of one of four women that Dr. Brandt had been working with before his death, trying to cure an odd disease called Old Maid's Disease--an obsessive mental disorder that causes women to imagine great love affairs where none exist. Frank learns some disturbing information that he's not sure if he wants Sarah to know about, given that it paints Dr. Brandt in a less than glowing light. Maeve, the young woman that Sarah has taken into her home to be nursemaid to her adopted daughter Catherine, is determined to help Malloy solve the crime and actually tries to get herself hired as a servant into one of the homes Malloy is investigating. Of course Sarah really cannot chastise her, since she's gotten involved in many of Malloy's investigations in the past. It was good to finally have the murder of Dr. Brandt solved and will be interesting to see how the series proceeds. It's obvious that Sarah and Malloy should end up together, but despite that romance side to the series, I find it's not as pervasive as in some series and it doesn't really bother me much. A-.

14. CHANGES by Jim Butcher. (AUDIO) #12 Harry Dresden Paranormal series, and a very apt title. Harry's life is definitely *full* of changes in this book. The first is that he receives a call from his former girlfriend Susan informing him that their daughter (whom Harry didn't know existed!) has been kidnapped by Duchess Ariana of the Red Court Vampires for some nefarious purpose. Susan is a half-vampire/half-human who went out of Harry's life years previously when she was bitten and took up with a group of like-minded people fighting the Red Court. Harry and Susan put together a team to get Maggie back from Ariana and are thrown into a maelstrom of trouble coming from many fronts. Within a short period of time, Harry's office is blown up, his home burned down, and he makes some alliances and some discoveries about his ancestry that leave him reeling. Excellent entry in this most excellent of paranormal series, perfectly read by James Marsters who captures the very essence of Harry and his friends and life. Left with a terrible cliffhanger, I'm very anxious to get to the next in the series when it becomes available. A+

15. THE TATTOO MURDER CASE by Akimitsu Takagi. Mystery written in the late 1940's and set in 1947 Tokyo. The main character, Kenzo, a doctor who is furthering his studies, attends a tattoo showing with both men and women displaying their artistic full-body (and totally illegal at the time!) tattoos. He meets and becomes enthralled with the young woman who wins the contest. He has one steamy night with her, and when she summons him in a letter a couple of days later, saying she fears for her life, he goes to her home at the appointed time the next morning only to discover her dismembered body in her bathroom--which is locked from the inside. Amazingly, the entire torso, with the most intricate of the tattoos, is missing. Also, one of Kenzo's university professors--a man who is obsessed with collecting the skins of people with tattoos to save them for display--arrives at the same time. The solution couldn't be that simple, could it? Of course not. Kenzo's older brother happens to be the chief of detectives for the Tokyo police, so he is called in on the case and he and Kenzo end up working on it together--and Kenzo conveniently doesn't mention his relationship with the woman. Over the course of months, the brothers eliminate one suspect after another, and then the woman's common-law husband and her brother both end up murdered as well. It's not until Kenzo's brilliant friend is brought into their circle to work on the problem that the who, how and why becomes evident as the very complicated plot unfolds. This was a very different sort of mystery in many ways, with the Japanese culture at that time and the whole 'tattoo community' playing a major factor in the case. In other ways though it was a classic 'locked room' mystery, and I enjoyed it very much. This book sat on my shelf for over five years, and of course I do regret not reading it sooner. Will definitely seek out more work by this author! A.

DNF: A GHOST IN THE MACHINE by Caroline Graham
JOURNAL OF A PLAGUE YEAR by Daniel DeFoe (audio)

The problem with both of the DNFs is that they were mind-numbingly boring. I did give A Ghost in the Machine a full 100 pages, but it was overblown, overly-detailed, and I just didn't care about the characters or the story...and as it was 500 pages long, reading another 400 pages just wasn't an option.

CURRENTLY READING: TO SHIELD THE QUEEN by Fiona Buckley (#1 Ursula Blanchard historical mystery) and listening to A NOBLE OUTLAW by Bernard Knight, one of the Crowner John historical mysteries.