Saturday, November 13, 2010

November 2010

1. TO SHIELD THE QUEEN by Fiona Buckley. #1 Ursula Blanchard Elizabethan historical mystery. Ursula, recently widowed and left nearly penniless, is given a place at Queen Elizabeth's court and ends up involved in political plots and intrigue when she is sent to attend to Lady Amy Dudley, wife of Sir Robert Dudley--widely known as a favorite of the Queen. Lady Amy is dying of breast cancer--essentially untreatable in that time--and Dudley wants someone there to witness the fact that he does not wish her ill nor is he plotting to kill her so he can be free to wed the Queen. While Ursula is there, Amy Dudley does die in suspicious circumstances, having fallen down the stairs and broken her neck while the entire household was at the village fair--at Amy's insistence. Then Ursula's servant John Wilton is murdered, and she seeks to follow a lead given her by John with his last breath, and THAT leads her to a possible plot against the Queen herself. This was a pretty good read, although I am not overly fond of the Elizabethan period having O.D.'d on it a few years back. I read one of the later books in this series a few years ago, and liked it enough to get this first one, intending to read through the series, but it ended up sitting on my shelf for over five years. I am not going to actively seek to continue the series for now, but at some point I probably will do so. B.

2. THE NOBLE OUTLAW by Bernard Knight (AUDIO) #11 Crowner John historical mystery set in Devon, UK in the 1195. A desiccated corpse is found in an old forge being renovated into a school, and due to the length of time he's been dead, the only thing clear is that the man was murdered--a nail protrudes from his neck. Eventually the Coroner and his assistants track down his identity, but shortly thereafter, two other--fresher--bodies killed and displayed in gruesome ways, are found. The men were all prominent tradesmen, leaders of their respective guilds. And then John's wife Matilda is brutally attacked on her way home from Christmas Mass, the attacker whispering to her that the killings were revenge killings against her brother, former Sheriff Richard de Revelle, and that he'll be getting his soon enough. The finger points most strongly to a man who was declared outlaw at the behest of Richard, who then seized his lands and property, but Crowner wonders if someone is deliberately pointing him in that direction--and then he learns that the outlaw "Nick of the Moor" has a wife who's been staying with family in Exeter and that she is Matilda's new friend from church. Once the Crowner gets to meet the outlaw and hear his story, he is determined to bring his case before the King, or at least the Lord Justiciar. This is the first of this series that I've listened to in audio format, and have quite enjoyed it. The reader is very good, skillfully telling the story and doing an excellent job with a myriad of different voices and accents. The series itself I always find enjoyable, and the author manages to impart a lot of historical detail and information such that I'm learning things without realizing it as the story goes on. Will listen to more of these if the library has them available for sure! A.

3. SMALL GODS by Terry Pratchett. Terry Pratchett tackles organized religion on the Discworld. Need I say more? Hilarious, but also very poignant, too. A.

4. WHITE CORRIDOR by Christopher Fowler. #5 in the Bryant & May "Peculiar Crimes Unit" mystery series set in London. In this episode, acting director Raymond Land closes the unit for a week while the computers and electronics are updated, so Bryant convinces May to accompany him to a spiritualist convention out in the rural west country. The two elderly detectives set off and run into a horrendous snowstorm that leaves them stuck in a ditch and stranded along with dozens of other travelers--one of whom is a murderer, as they discover when they find the body of a truck driver with his throat slashed. Meanwhile, back in London, the unit's pathologist Oswald Finch dies while beginning an autopsy on a young girl, a drug addict who is more than what she seems. His death comes just days before his impending retirement, and the remaining staff must figure out if it was murder (only they have keys and the door was locked!), suicide or a bizarre accident. Communicating with their senior colleagues by mobile phone, DS Janice Longbright must finally begin to put all the teachings of her mentors to work to solve the crime--before a royal visit scheduled last minute by their nemesis, Oscar Kasavian, could derail the unit once and for all. Enjoyable read as always with crazy characters, well-plotted mysteries, red herrings galore, and plenty of laughs. Though I was sad at the death of crotchety old Finch, his demise was an interesting puzzle for the Unit to solve. A

5. THE SECOND DEATH OF GOODLUCK TINUBU by Michael Stanley. #2 in the Detective David "Kubu" Bengu series set in Botswana. This book has Kubu venturing far from home in Gaborone to the north of Botswana to a tourist camp in the jungle where two brutal murders beg to be solved. One of the men killed turns out to be a South African policeman. The other, Goodluck Tinubu, appears to be not what he seems--which was a quiet, well-loved teacher from a school in Mochudi. According to his fingerprints, he had already died once in the Rhodesian war thirty years previously. Since his body was mutilated after death in a way that indicates it was a gang killing related to the political upheavals in Zimbabwe, and since another man staying at the camp left sooner than planned and has now disappeared, it is assumed that he is the killer they're looking for. But as Kubu and Tatwa, the local detective in charge, begin investigating, they discover that some of the camp's other guests are not exactly who they seem to be either, and some have dark secrets of their own. A twisty tale of political unrest, smuggling, and old festering wounds, this book reads much more quickly than its 480 pages would have you think. Great characters, a lot of information--not all of it pleasant, with the history of these African countries--and immersion into the culture without being 'teachy or preachy.' Good mystery too, although I had a gut feeling about the killer. Hope there will be more in the series! A.

6. PLAYING WITH FIRE (audio) by Peter Robinson. #14 Chief Inspector Alan Banks series set in Yorkshire. Two derelict boats on the canal burn, with two dead--one body on each boat. It's determined that accelerant was used and thus it becomes a murder AND arson investigation. Both boats were occupied by essentially squatters--one, a down-on-his-luck artist and the other a young drug user and her boyfriend, who was away from the boat that evening. Suspects are many in the early days as Banks and his team, including DI Annie Cabot, sift through the myriad of evidence, interview principals and the like. When another suspicious fire in an abandoned caravan kills another man--someone the artist on the boat knew--they begin to suspect a serial arsonist/murderer. Personally, I thought the bad guy was very obvious, although Robinson does throw out plenty of appealing red herrings. But even so, this was one of the best of this series in my opinion, and I enjoyed the story, the history, and the whole package very much. Skillfully read as usual by Ron Keith. Looking forward to the next and hoping my library has it available in one audio format or another! A.

7. UNWILLING ACCOMPLICE by Barbara Seranella. #7 Munch Mancini mystery set in 1980's Los Angeles, and featuring our favorite female mechanic and ex-junkie. Things are going along well for Munch and her adopted daughter Asia when a blast from the past--Asia's aunt Lisa and her two girls--call and ask to get together. Munch, clean and sober for many years now, is always reluctant to let her past leak into her new, stable life, but Lisa is Asia's blood kin and Asia wants to meet her cousins, so she agrees. When the elder daughter Charlotte goes missing a couple of days later, a distraught Lisa calls Munch as the police don't seem very interested in a Goth-looking fifteen-year-old whom they think ran away. Charlotte was friends with a boy who was killed a few days previously as part of a robbery, and Munch wonders if this had something to do with her disappearance--Lisa is convinced she was abducted, and some threatening phone calls later bear this out. Meanwhile, Munch learns some interesting information about Rico, her former boyfriend who had broken their relationship off when his ex-girlfriend turned up pregnant, as he planned to 'do the right thing' and marry her. I always enjoy a visit with Munch and Asia and Munch's unique perspective on life and this book was no exception. Only one left in the series. :( A.

8. DEXTER BY DESIGN by Jeff Lindsay. (Audio) #4 Dexter series book. Dexter Morgan--the blood spatter forensics expert who works with the Miami police department and also happens to be a cold-blooded killer--is on his honeymoon with Rita in Paris. Of course he's bored silly while Rita is in seventh heaven--until they come upon a strange art exhibit featuring self-amputation as art. 'Jennifer's Leg' depicts Jennifer slowly removing parts of her leg and she appears at the end of the display in the flesh--on crutches, of course. Dexter is enthralled! Upon arriving back in Miami, it doesn't take long for the honeymoon to be literally over as someone is displaying their own 'body art'--corpses with their insides removed, posed and stuffed with various items advertising 'The New Miami.' Dex's sister Sgt. Deborah is in charge of the case and looking to her brother--whom she now knows about--to help with clues. But before they get very far, Deborah is stabbed nearly fatally by one of the suspects and Dexter is on his own--under the too-watchful eye of her partner, Lt. Coulter and the ever present Sgt Doakes. This is the first of the series that I have listened to in audio format and I really enjoyed it--the reader did a great job capturing Dexter's "spirit." Despite the dark subject matter, there were several laugh out loud moments and it was interesting seeing how Dexter would get out of yet another scrape. One of the funnier parts was Dexter's step-kids telling him he was in trouble with Rita, because he was going to be in the "poop van." In actuality, she was fixing a special French dinner, and her atrocious pronunciation had the kids thinking she had said "caca-van" instead of "coq au vin." LOL A.

9. OUT OF CIRCULATION by Jo Dereske. #5 Helma Zukas, librarian, mystery set in fictional Bellehaven, WA. Helma and her good friend Ruth set off on a 3-day camping trip/hike up in the mountains near the Canadian border when they are trapped by a snowstorm in an emergency cabin with several other hikers. Helma is as prepared as she can be with plenty of dried foods and a backpack full of useful things--unlike Ruth, who insisted on hiking in a skirt, of all things. Of course there are dead bodies, guns, suspicious behavior and at least one murderer--but who? And how will Helma keep the killer from suspecting that she may have figured out the mystery long enough for the storm to abate and the group to be rescued? I enjoy this series a lot. Helma is an odd duck for sure--she "seems" a lot older than she is, rather prim and proper and yet she definitely has sense of humor too. It's not often I find a cozy-ish series that I enjoy these days, but this is definitely one of them. A.

10. BLOOD LAKE by K.j.a. Wishnia. This is the sixth (and last) Filomena Buscarsela mystery--at least, there has not been a new one since 2002, which I think is really a shame as this is a great series, with an interesting setting and a unique protagonist. Fil is back in her native Ecuador, taking her daughter Antonia to meet her extended family--although she must be careful as her "real" self is a former dissident, wanted by the police. Back once again to the heat and humidity, the poverty with basic essentials we take for granted in short supply, she still feels the love of her family and friends surround her and wants Antonia to know 'this' part of her homeland. Of course she becomes embroiled in the local and national political scene, and her detective's instincts lead her down some dark paths to confront ghosts from her past that may not spell good things for her future. Although I really like this series, and I love Fil to bits, I found the actual mystery in this one rather predictable--I knew who would be dead before they died, and had a good idea whodunit, too. It was perhaps a bit too long with a few too many side trips, and even a bit too much of the socio-economic inequity angst laid on, but I still enjoyed it much, and was sorry that Filomena's declaration at the end, "The mess I get into when we get back there is a whole other story." is a story that will apparently never be told. :( B+

11. SAVAGE RUN by C.J. Box. #2 Joe Pickett mystery. Joe, a game warden in the Bighorn mountains in Wyoming, is on scene when an exploding cow kills famed eco-terrorist Stewie Woods. It's assumed by the Sheriff that Woods was rigging the explosive himself in one of his infamous protests against ranchers, and died in a case of instant karma, but why is the owner of the ranch, a powerful man with friends in high places, not surprised or even curious about the incident? Joe aims to nail him for poaching a trophy bull elk out of season, but ends up getting sucked back into investigating Stewie Woods' death (and NOT at the invitation of the Sheriff!) when several other noted eco-terrorists end up dead in other freakish accidents. Things get even more complicated when someone proclaiming that he's Stewie Woods keeps calling Joe's house and talking to his wife Marybeth--and he learns that Marybeth and Stewie were high school sweethearts. Enjoyable enough read, but there is just something missing. Not sure what it is--I am not fully engaged with the main character I don't think, there didn't seem to be much in the way of character development since book one, and there also seemed to be a whole string of really improbable things happening and weird coincidences such that it was just outside the realm of being believable. I like the author's writing style and the sense of place is awesome too. I just hope Joe becomes more "real" to me as the series goes on. Hopefully this was just the old 'sophomore slump.' B.

12. HANGMAN BLIND by Cassandra Clark. #1 Abbess of Meaux historical mystery set in early 1380's York. Sister Hildegard, a Cistercian nun and a widow with an inheritance to spend, hopes to procure property from a local lord, Roger de Hutton. She grew up in the area and knew Roger and his family before taking the veil, and being out of the cloister for the first time in seven years and back on familiar ground leaves her with mixed emotions. Things are tense, with many disputes between the serfs, mostly Saxons, and their Norman manor lords, and hints of a new uprising being planned. When there is an attempted murder against Roger during a feast celebrating the birth of his heir, his new nephew, and other deaths follow, Hildegard and Ulf, an old friend of hers and Roger's steward, must seek to solve the crimes to prevent a full-blown riot. Definitely not your typical cozy historical, this book is steeped in realistic detail of life in those trying medieval times, not sparing the reader's sensibilities as the poverty, disparity between rich and poor, and the often violent death awaiting many people is met head on. Plenty of mud, blood and guts and yet it's also got some very interesting characters along with a heroine that I already feel attached to. Glad I have the next one in series waiting. A.

13. A VIGIL OF SPIES by Candace Robb. #10 Owen Archer medieval mystery set in 1370's York--just a few years previous to the above book, in fact! Owen is attending to his employer, Archbishop John Thoresby as he nears his death. The Princess of Wales in bringing her entourage to visit the Archbishop, much to Owen's chagrin, as it's his job as Captain of the Archbishop's guards to keep them all safe. When a young servant of a messenger accompanying Her Grace's party from William Wykeham--ever a thorn in Owen's side--dies on the way, a brief investigation leads Owen to believe it was murder, possibly aimed at the messenger. When inspection of the documents he was carrying prove to be blank parchments, obviously substituted at some point, Owen and the few people he trusts--including, grudgingly, Geoffrey Chaucer--must not only find who took them, but what they contained, and do so discreetly. It more than likely relates to who will be chosen as Thoresby's successor when he dies. More deaths follow and Owen is pitched into despair when he discovers that one of his most trusted men has betrayed him and he begins to question everything. I love this series and really hope the author continues on with it--she says in the afterward that she's got more adventures planned, but it's been almost 3 years now since this was published. Owen and his wife Lucie and their growing family are among my favorites, and I liked this book much better than the last one. Not sure why, but I found this very enjoyable and an interesting take on the author's view of things. It's not always easy to deal with a lot of characters who were real people but she does so very plausibly I think. A+

14. CITY OF VEILS by Zoe Ferraris. #2 Nayir Sharqui and Katya Hijazi mystery set in modern day Saudi Arabia. Nayir and Katya have both spent several miserable months not speaking to one another and are thrown together again when Nayir's uncle asks him to find something out from the coroner's office (where Katya works) about a friend who died. Katya ends up assisting a police detective with the death of a young woman who was beaten to death and apparently tortured beforehand. Because of the Muslim religious laws, they must have a woman policeman question the women, and the detective's only available female officer was recently fired for lying about being married. (Unmarried women are not allowed to be policewomen.) The secondary case, part of the story told from the point of view of Miriam Walker, an American woman whose husband works for a Saudi company there, who is thrown into a state of turmoil when her husband disappears. Katya's case intersects with Miriam's dilemma and a whole tangled web ensues. Despite this sounding complicated, it was a very enjoyable book, read skillfully and with an interesting mystery. The only detrimental thing is that it was told from the POV of several different people, and while I understand why the author did it--to help the reader gain perspective of the strict laws and the whole Muslim way of life there through the eyes of many different sub-groups--it was, at times, distracting and didn't really allow for more full development of any one character. That was the only thing that kept me from giving this an A-plus. I do hope there will be more in this series! A.

15. BLOODSHOT by Stuart MacBride. #3 Logan MacRae mystery set in Aberdeen, Scotland. Det. Sgt. Logan MacRae is once again subject to frequently-discussed lousy Aberdeen weather as he is pulled from one investigation to another, caught in a tug-of-war between warring DI's Steel and Insch as he sleeps little, manages to get himself in trouble several times, but eventually solves the crimes. Three equally odd cases--an eight-year-old murderer keeps eluding Logan and his counterparts, a prominent footballer is suspected of rape but keeps slipping away due to lack of forensic evidence, and a man dropped off by an unknown person near dead at the hospital eventually dies and it appears to be the result of some bizarre BDSM practices. I really like Logan and this series but I do find that these books are somewhat repetitive on many levels--the constant reference to the bad weather, the frequent negative descriptions of his superior officers, and reviewing over and over Logan's lack of sleep, state of being hung over, etc etc gets rather old after awhile. Seems like there's a lot of stuff that is "filler" material that doesn't really advance the story. Still--I liked this book and enjoy the series and will continue to read on. A-


I'm working on finishing off a few 'dead' mystery series these last couple months of the year and early next year, so I don't feel so guilty starting some new stuff. Got WAY too many series going...this is a chronic condition of mine though. LOL