Friday, February 4, 2011

February 2011

Well, I made it through January with my New Years Resolution books were purchased for money this, on to February!

1.WILD INDIGO by Sandi Ault. #1 Jamaica Wild mystery. Jamaica Wild is a resource protection agent for the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) in northern New Mexico. She's also sort of adopted a Pueblo Indian woman whom she calls Momma Anna as her surrogate mother, learning something of the Pueblo ways, which doesn't sit well with all the clan, as maintaining the secrets of the tribe is a big part of the tradition. Jamaica lives in a cabin in the middle of nowhere without a phone and with her wolf pup, Mountain. When she witnesses what looks like a suicide--a young Pueblo man standing in the middle of a buffalo stampede--she feels traumatized as the young man was Jerome Santana, Momma Anna's son. It only gets worse when the leaders of the local Pueblo government make it known that they believe Jamaica was the one who started the stampede that killed Jerome. Her boss wants her to play down her involvement and stay quiet, but every bone in Jamaica's body won't let her stay out of it and leads her to find out the truth about Jerome's death. Steeped in the culture and lore and mysticism of the Pueblo Indians, this was quite an interesting story, easy to read (if occasionally a little...I don't know....clumsy or awkward, maybe) with a somewhat unique and engaging lead character. I picked this book up to fulfill a requirement in a mystery reading challenge (something with the word Indigo in the title) and am very glad I did so. I'd not heard of this author until this title popped up in a search--coincidentally, the next day I noticed when the Left Coast Crime awards were announced that the latest book in the series is nominated for a Watson (best sidekick) and a Hillerman Sky Award for a book that captures the landscape of the Southwest. This book certainly did a great job with that, too. Looking forward to more! B+

2.THE DARK WIND by Tony Hillerman. (AUDIO) #5 in the Navajo mysteries, this one featuring only Sgt. Jim Chee, who works for the Navajo Tribal Police. Chee is out on a stakeout, watching a new windmill that has twice been vandalized to try to catch the culprit in the act, when he witnesses a small plane crash not far away. It's a small plane, and very shortly after he arrives on the scene, the pilot dies. While he's briefly inspecting the site, he hears a gunshot not far off, and then a car driving away. The plane ends up being part of a smuggling ring, carting loads of drugs into the country under cover of darkness, and an arrogant, annoying DEA officer gets involved, as well as the FBI. Chee is supposed to just drop that case and concentrate on finding the windmill vandals, and then a body appears on the scene, obviously dead for quite some time. Of course the cases all eventually tie together as Chee bends and twists the rules and follows the clues while disobeying orders to find the solution. Atmospheric and educational, mystical and steeped in Navajo and Hopi tradition, this series is wonderfully read by George Guidall, whom I would happily listen to reciting the phone book. LOL Anyway, this was another enjoyable entry in the series, although I do like the books that have both Leaphorn and Chee in them a little better. A

3.MAMA RIDES SHOTGUN by Deborah Sharp. #2 Mace Bauer mystery, set in central Florida. Mace and her Mama are trying to do a little bonding by camping and riding the 120-mile Cracker Trail--the week-long ride an educational trek celebrating the ways of the old-time Florida cattlemen. On the first day of the ride, Lawton Bramble, one of the ranchers who was allowing them to camp on his land and providing vats of his famous Cow Hunter Chili, dies. His much-younger wife comes upon him as he was presumably stirring up his chili and had a heart attack. (He was well-known to have a bad heart.) But Mace is suspicious--especially when she notices Lawton's gun which appeared to have dropped out of his hand when he died. Why would he have it so close to hand? But old Doc, who treated Lawton, declares it a heart attack and that's that--until Lawton's kids start pointing fingers at their new stepmother and making noises that his death wasn't natural. Lawton, being a rich cattleman, has plenty of enemies. Mace's questioning Doc's diagnosis gets around of course and causes the expected attacks and attempted attacks on her person, but she's persistent (like many amateur sleuths, almost stupidly so) and eventually she solves the (very predictable) case. In between, there was a lot of romancey hogwash--Mace's love interest from the last book who had moved back to Miami some time ago "just happens" to be on trail as well, and of course there's Lawton's son Trey, who was a big high school football star at Mace's high school, whom she ends up smooching with as well. It was just...silly. Lots of eye rolling on my part. Mace is supposedly thirty-something years old, but she sure didn't act like she was much out of her teens. The first book was kind of cute despite all the Southern talk and Mace's annoying, nosy, preachy, interfering Mama. This time it was just over the top. I actually liked Mace in the first book, but she seemed almost like a different person in this book. I skimmed the last hundred pages or so, but I won't be continuing on with the series. The dialogue, as with the first in series, doesn't sound very natural and the plot was scattered all over the place with just too many unbelievable coincidences needed to make it come together. C.

4. THE BURGUNDIAN'S TALE by Kate Sedley. #14 Roger the Chapman medieval mystery. Roger is once again off from Bristol as his cobbled-together family begins to wear on his nerves and after more than a year, he decides to hit the open road selling his wares. Before he can leave, Master Timothy Plummer, agent and spy for Duke Richard of Gloucester comes to Bristol and finds Roger with a summons from Richard himself. It seems the son of one of his sister's (Margaret of York, now the Dowager Duchess of Burgundy) favorite ladies has been murdered and he wishes the crime to be solved before Margaret must go back to Burgundy. Fulk Quantrell was just eighteen but much wiser than his years, having learned to charm the ladies, including his aunt who changed her will for him, leaving him not only her home, but the embroidery shop she'd inherited from her husband. Supposedly coshed on the head by a footpad and robbed, Roger discovers that death scenario for Fulk unlikely as the killer left his purse and jewels on him--they were taken, but by two beggars who moved his body from in front of their patch after they found him dead. Despite all the women Fulk came into contact with singing his praises, Roger soon discovers that he wasn't such a charming young man underneath it all, and that there are plenty of people who were not sorry he was dead. Roger's astute powers of observation and refusal to give up eventually have him solving the crime. I really enjoyed this installment in the series--the easy-reading style of writing, the historical detail and sense of place, and the interesting characters, including plenty of real historical people as well. A.

5. MURDER IN BELLEVILLE by Cara Black. #2 Aimee Leduc mystery set in Paris. Aimee, a private investigator who apparently usually deals in computer investigations, once again gets caught up in more physical pursuits when she attempts to help a friend of hers whose husband is a diplomat dealing with some touchy foreign negotiations with Algeria. Anais leaves Aimee a cryptic message telling her where to meet, and when she arrives, she sees Anais talking with a woman whose car blows up right in front of them as the woman gets in it to leave--and then some thugs begin chasing them as they make a harried getaway on Aimee's moped down the subway tunnel. Shaken to the core, Aimee learns that the woman was Anais' husband's mistress, who has some possible connection to arms dealing and also possibly to the negotiations that Philippe is involved in. As she careens from one improbable situation to another, the story seems to get more and more out of control. That said--if it weren't for some of these silly situations--I like Aimee for the most part, and her circle of friends, including her business partner, her dog named Miles Davis, and the haunting clues about her past. I do get a bit tired of all the designer clothes and accessories mentioned (not my thing) but there are enough strong points about this book to keep me wanting to read on and to just take some parts with a grain of salt. B.

6. STRANGE AFFAIR by Peter Robinson. #15 DCI Alan Banks police procedural set in Yorkshire, UK. Banks, still recovering from the devastating fire at his cottage that almost cost him his life, is on holiday and wondering what to do with his time when he receives a couple of cryptic voicemails from his brother Roy, a wheeling-and-dealing financier in London. Alan and his younger brother are not close and never have been, and they rarely speak on the phone unless there's a problem, so the message--which sounds almost desperate though gives no details--intrigues him. When he tries to reach Roy in response, he's nowhere to be found, so Alan is off to London, where he discovers that Roy has all but disappeared. Knowing that his brother sometimes skated close to the edge of the law in his dealings, Banks decides to try to locate him first through "unofficial" channels lest he get little brother in trouble with the law by opening a missing persons case. Meanwhile, back in Eastvale, DI Annie Cabbot is dealing with a murder--a young woman shot execution style in the head, left in her car in a ditch along a deserted roadway--and surprise of surprises, she has Alan Banks' name and address scribbled on a piece of paper in her back jeans pocket--but even more intriguingly, it's the address to his burned-out cottage where he hasn't lived for several months. As Annie and Supt. Gristhorpe try to track Banks down (he's left his mobile on the kitchen table at his temporary apartment) and find the connection, Banks investigates Roy's life and begins to finally get to know his little brother. Robinson's series seems to just get better and better with each entry! I thoroughly enjoyed this one, found it hard to put down with a twisty plot (and even some surprises!), great characters and just the right balance between visceral and cerebral moments. Can't wait to read the next one! A.

7. LADY KILLER by Ed McBain. #8 in publication order of the 87th Precinct mysteries, this one features a case without a killer--at least to begin with. A young boy is sent into the precinct house with an envelope which contains a letter pieced together with cut out letters from the newspaper threatening to kill The Lady if they police can't stop him by 8 pm. First they must figure out if it's a crank letter, and then determine who 'The Lady' is. It's quite a hoot reading these old mysteries that are very dated because they mention the cost of items and salaries of policemen and where the only forensic evidence are fingerprints, which take a very long time to process. Of course, this means the detectives actually have to detect, and not just push a few buttons on a computer or phone to get the answers they need. Usually these books mention all the detectives at least in passing, and then tend to feature a couple of them as primary protagonists. In this one we get to know Cotton Hawes a little better, and it was an enjoyable quick read looking at police work back in the years when I was born. B.

8. MURDER AT EBBETS FIELD BY Troy Soos. (AUDIO) #2 in the Mickey Rawlings historical mystery series featuring the utility infielder who currently plays for the New York Giants. Mickey is told by his manager, the cranky, no-nonsense John McGraw, that he will have to go to a movie studio on his time off. He's had a request from a local movie producer making a baseball movie to provide a player for a bit part, and since he can't spare any of his more well-known starting players, Mickey it is. As he gets involved in the production and attends a party that evening, he meets Marguerite Turner, an actress he knows from seeing in "jungle movies." She has a bit part in this movie, taking a back seat to her friend, the much more famous and classically beautiful Florence Hampton. Mickey tries champagne for the first time and of course overindulges so ends up booking a room at the hotel where the party is held. Imagine his surprise when he finds the naked body of Miss Hampton under the boardwalk near the hotel early the next morning! There's no outward evidence of foul play, but Mickey is asked by his reporter friend Carl and then by Miss Turner to look into Florence's death--which Mickey does, all while trying not to aggravate the movie people, a vindictive newspaper reporter for a scandal rag, or the Brooklyn Dodgers players, several of whom seemed to have been involved with her. I have come to really enjoy this series, although the mystery was easy to figure out. I particularly like listening to the audio version with the story being well-told and with just the right mix of humor and seriousness. Looking forward to listening to the next one. A

9. HEART OF ICE by Alys Clare. #9 in the Hawkenlye Abbey historical mystery series set in 1194 England. A young man seeks care at the healing waters of Hawkenlye Abbey, but before he reaches them, he is struck on the head and killed by an unknown assailant and shoved into a pond that freezes over. A couple of days later, his body is discovered and at first he's believed to be the victim of some type of wasting disease--until the knot on his head is discovered. Soon, more sick people arrive at Hawkenlye and Abbess Helewise and the sisters and brothers have a full-fledged plague on their hands. Sir Josse d'Acquin is off to Tonbridge and even further afield trying to find out the young man's identity and where he had traveled to try to locate the source of the illness or at least the path so it can be contained and stopped. Meanwhile, Abbess Helewise is troubled and as she watches people die and even some of her beloved sisters and brothers fall ill, considers making a journey into the forest to find the Pagan healer Joanna, one-time lover of Sir Josse. The story then swtiches to Joanna's story, telling of the last few months and how she is brought to an island to learn the healing ways and learn the true identity of her mother and other mysteries. I enjoy this series, although the continued romantic tension between Josse and Helewise does get old after awhile. The author does a good job of incorporating historical events and people into the plots of the books and this one was no exception, although I'm not sure how well the overly-long section about Joanna worked here. Don't get me wrong--as a Pagan myself, I found it quite interesting and a good story in and of itself, but I think an abbreviated version of it would have worked better for the purpose of this book. All in all, a satisfying read and I look forward to continuing on in the series. B+

10. DRIVEN TO INK by Karen E. Olson. #3 in the Tattoo shop mysteries featuring Brett Kavanaugh, owner of the Painted Lady tattoo salon in Las Vegas. Brett kindly loans her red Mustang convertible to an elderly friend who is getting married--they are using one of the drive-through wedding chapels in Vegas and wanted something more classy than Sylvia's battered Gremlin. The morning after, Brett returns from a trip to Red Rocks where she does some hiking--only to discover a body in the trunk--dead as a doornail, with a dead rat underneath it. The body looks, at first glance, like Dean Martin, but ends up being one of the impersonators who worked at the wedding chapel. When she tries to reach Sylvia and Bernie, they can't be found either by herself, Sylvia's son or the police--Brett calls her brother Tim, a detective with LVPD, but because of her involvement in the case, it must be handled by another detective. Brett and Jeff Coleman, rival tattoo shop owner, sort-of friend and son of Sylvia, put their heads together to try to locate the newlyweds and find out who the body in her trunk is and who put him there, and of course this gets them in trouble (several times) with the law as well as with the killer. While the storyline here sounds good, I have to say that this book and I got off on the wrong foot on page 3, when the wrong form of a word was used--'incidence' being used instead of simply the plural of 'incident.' Argh! It's one of those mistakes you need a human proofreader for and the kind I find more annoying than a simple typo. I enjoy the information about tattoos and the real sense of place that Olson gives to the Vegas venue. Brett's character is likable enough in general, it just seems that she continues to become dumb and dumber as she goes off on her own pursuing leads, withholding valuable information from the police, and doing otherwise unbelievable things. I like a story where the protagonist might be defiant and high-spirited, yet I like to be able to insert myself into the story, thinking "I might do the same thing if I were in her shoes." But I rarely feel that way with Brett. And again, it's another case where almost every eligible man she comes across, she 'checks out' and is ready to follow with puppy eyes after just a few minutes. It gets old, and my eye muscles get a good workout from all the eye-rolling I do. I have to admit I really miss the author's much-feistier, less cozy character from her previous series--as much as I like the author's writing style, this series is fast drifting back into the pack of cookie-cutter cozy series. Not bad, just not worth crowing about. C+

11. THE LAST KING OF TEXAS by Rick Riordan. (AUDIO) #3 Tres Navarre series set in San Antonio TX. A few months ago, Tres Navarre--private investigator and PhD in English lit--turned down a professorship at a local university to pursue the necessary training for his official PI license. Now that the guy who took the job has been shot--after the university receives multiple threatening letters regarding racist statements made by another former professor--he's offered the job again in a dual role: he'll also get to keep his PI hat on. The first day on the job, a package with a homemade bomb explodes as it's delivered to Dr. Aaron Brandon's (or rather, Tres's) office, which clinches the deal: he's interested now! Soon after beginning his investigation--at the protestation of the local police, including the very attractive Det. Anna DeLeon--Tres discovers a dark history about Dr. Brandon and his family that may signal other motives for his death other than just his role as an Anglo professor. Connected to a powerful local family known for their oppression and mistreatment of their Hispanic employees, there are dozens of people who may have wanted revenge. When it's known that Zeta Sanchez, the drug-running gang boss suspected of killing Dr. Brandon's father several years ago is back in the area, he becomes the obvious suspect and the target of the police investigation. Tres, however, isn't so sure and pursues other avenues, only to end up in a heap of trouble several times, with other murders and attacks along the way before he figures out who's behind all the killings. I do enjoy this series, and especially enjoy the reading by Tom Stechshulte who does a great job with the voices and the whole tone of the book. I like Tres a lot, and the author is able to provide a real sense of place which serves to make the city itself one of the characters in the book. There is a lot of violence in these books, as with many mysteries, a rather inordinate amount such that in real life, one would, I think, hesitate to be friends with someone like Tres who has dead bodies falling everywhere around him. I did figure out the mystery ahead of time, but not too early, just picking up on a couple of deftly-placed clues that made me sure I was right. Very much looking forward to the next book in the series. A.

12.THE BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE by Laurie R. King. #1 Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes mystery. Set during WWI, Mary Russell is a young woman who is neighbor to Sherlock Holmes in the countryside, he having retired to live a quiet life. She stumbles upon him watching his bees and after a brief conversation, figures out who he is--and he recognizes that he's met a superior mind as well. That chance meeting begins a friendship and Miss Russell spends much time with Holmes, learning his methods of deduction, conducting scientific experiments and the like. Her 'home' life with an aunt who seeks only to criticize--her guardian since her parents died, but essentially dependent on Mary as she has the trust fund--Mary spends as much time away from there as she can. Soon she's enrolled at Oxford, coming home to visit Holmes on breaks, and they embark on several cases using his technique of disguise and employing various forensic techniques that were way ahead of their time. When Holmes is sought indirectly by an American Senator whose daughter has been kidnapped, he takes Mary along and they work their magic to get the six-year-old Jessica Simpson (ha ha!) back--and only then realize that they are working against a foe who has targeted Holmes specifically--someone who is as brilliant as Holmes himself with far-reaching plans. I enjoyed this take on the whole Holmes character and I liked Mary Russell too, but at times the book was just...I don't know...too wordy, too explanatory, too long-winded, too detailed and I wished she'd just get on with it already. Lots and lots of prose and not a whole lot of dialogue--sometimes it just got sloggy, as interesting as the story was. I also figured quite far in advance who the baddie was, which surprised me. I do intend to read on in the series but probably will space these out quite a lot. B

13. MURDER IN A COLD CLIMATE by Scott Young. #1 of a series set in the Northwest Territories of Canada, featuring Matthew "Matteesie" Kitologitak, an Inuk (singular of Inuit) Inspector for the RCMP. Actually, he's been primarily working for Northern Affairs, not doing much police work but attending conferences living mostly in Toronto. We know from the get-go that Matteesie is not your everyday hero--the opening pages see him with his long-time mistress in the northern town of Inuvik, waiting to fly out to Leningrad for a conference. (His wife, a white woman, is back in Toronto.) He's also not your typical burly-brawny tough guy--at 5'6" with a brown, round face, he doesn't exactly scare many folks, even bundled up in his parka. His RCMP boss, Buster, calls and asks him to look into something for him as a favor (it's been several years since he did any police work)--the disappearance of a small plane that had a well-known government official's son as the pilot. Meanwhile though, a murder happens right in front of Matteesie and he feels his inspector's instincts kick into gear as he puts that incident first--and of course after digging a bit, figures the two incidents are actually connected. Off he goes across the wild northern wilderness trying to track down a killer and find the connection to the missing plane. This book provided a great sense of place and a immersion into a culture that I didn't know all that much about. The author brought home in a very real way just how isolated things are up near the Arctic Circle, and how things most of us 'down here' (and even in southern Canada) take for granted--including the usual police procedures--which just aren't the same there. I liked Matteesie but the story itself was kind of all over the place, especially at first; it was hard to keep people and places straight in part because of the strange names, and it wasn't until the middle third of the book that I finally started 'getting' it enough so that the storyline made more sense. All in all, though, an enjoyable book and I will at some point continue reading on if I can lay hands on the second in the series. B.

14. CAT OF THE CENTURY by Rita Mae Brown (AUDIO) #18 Mrs. Murphy mystery also featuring Mary Minor "Harry" Harristeen in Crozet, Virginia. Harry is off on a road trip with her pets to help Aunt Tally celebrate her 100th birthday at her college alma mater back in Missouri. One of the organizers disappears, and another lets "slip" that the missing woman has probably done a runner since she knows of some shady business practices that have gone on. Once back in Virginia, the accuser ends up dead, believed killed by the missing woman. Harry, who of course has her nose in the middle of it, isn't so sure. I'm not sure why I chose this book, except I needed something very quick and light, since I have two other audio books I'm #1 in line for at the library and I didn't want to get stuck in the midst of something more meaty. It's part of a series I really used to enjoy. I'm not a fan of cozy mysteries as a rule, but have always liked listening to this series, even though some of the main characters are animals. The reader does them well and they aren't too sappy. However, the last few have been not much more than soapboxes for the author to spout various political and social opinions and this one was no different. I did finish it, as the reader does a good job and I do like to visit with Harry and the gang now and then, but even that aspect was minimal this time as the story was told from the point of view of so many different characters that we hardly even spent any time with Harry and the pets. No more. D.

15. THE WEE FREE MEN by Terry Pratchett. (AUDIO) #30 in publication order of the Discworld fantasy novels but #1 in the Tiffany Aching 'mini series' and the second DW novel aimed at younger readers. Tiffany is interested in becoming a witch--and she has a visit from Miss Tick--a witch who's surprised to have detected Tiffany's natural talent on 'the Chalk' which is 'much too soft to grow a proper witch.' Tiffany explains about some strange things she's seen and Miss Tick recognizes trouble and goes off to find more witches to help fight it. Tiffany conveniently forgets to mention the little bluish men with red hair she's seen as well, but when her annoying and perpetually sticky little brother Wentworth goes missing, these creatures come to her aid. The Nac Mac Feegle, she learns later. Not Pixies, but Pictsies...the Wee Free Men, known as thieves, drinkers and fighters and rarely a help to anyone. They're certain that the wee lad has been stolen and taken to a magical land by 'the Quin' who loves wee bairns, they lead Tiffany--who now wishes she'd gotten to know her grandmother, Granny Aching, better as she is learning that she was probably a witch herself. Once I started listening to this, I simply couldn't stop--it was hilarious and yet somewhat profound at the same time if that makes any sense. (Pretty much like most of the Discworld books, actually.) The reader was excellent and did a great job with the Scottish burr of the Nac Mac Feegle, such that I laughed out loud many times. Can't wait to see what interesting things Tiffany gets up to next. A+

DNF: GREAT HOUSE by Nicole Krauss (audio) I listened to a couple hours of this before finally deciding it was a load of whiny, pretentious twaddle. The premise sounded interesting--the story of a writing desk and the people who owned it over time--but it was just...bleh.

Currently reading:

1. LAST ARGUMENT OF KINGS by Joe Abercrombie (#3 of the First Law fantasy trilogy)
2. THE VICTORIA VANISHES by Christopher Fowler (#6 Bryant & May mystery)
3. DUST by Martha Grimes (AUDIO)