Tuesday, March 13, 2012

March 2012

1. EYE OF THE RED TSAR by Sam Eastland. (AUDIO) (#1 Inspector Pekkala historical mystery) Grade: A Review pending at the Paperbackswap Blog.

2. NO MARK UPON HER by Deborah Crombie. (#14 Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James mystery). Grade: A Fourteenth entry in this outstanding series featuring Scotland Yard detective Duncan Kincaid and DI Gemma James. With their lives officially blended now, Duncan had planned to take some family leave time to aid in assisting their new foster daughter Charlotte's adjustment. But when a major case involving the death of a ranking Metropolitan Police inspector comes up, his boss wants him on it. Rebecca Meredith was an Olympic calibre rower and her body is found in the Thames near her boat a few hours after she's reported missing by her ex-husband. Once it's determined to be murder, Duncan and Gemma both fear his leave may need to be put on the back burner. Teeming with potential suspects from Becca's personal, athletic and work life, Kincaid and his Sergeant, Doug Cullen, must first try to sort the massive amount of information. One piece of information from her work life leads to a secondary investigation conducted somewhat on the sly by Gemma with help from her former co-worker Melody, now an investigator with Project Sapphire, dealing with rape cases. This part of the investigation has the potential to get both Duncan and Gemma in their usual vat of hot water with their bosses. I hate when this happens, but as soon as the killer was introduced, I knew him for what he was. I had no idea why he had killed Becca Meredith, but I knew it was him. There were a few interesting plot twists that made me think for awhile that I might be wrong, but no. I love this series for its seamless blend of Duncan and Gemma's family and personal lives with their work and investigations. I also inevitably learn something from the books as the author picks a somewhat offbeat topic and researches it well--in this case, it's rowing, of course. The characters, even the secondary ones, are by now old friends and I look forward very eagerly to each new entry in the series, putting off the reading of it as long as I can, which usually isn't very long after release. And now I'm moaning that I have to wait for the next one to enjoy another visit. I can't recommend a series more highly than I do this one.

3. BURIED by Mark Billingham (KINDLE) (#6 DI Tom Thorne mystery) Grade: B Sixth in the DI Tom Thorne mystery series. The teenage son of a former cop is kidnapped, but oddly enough there's no ransom note and some question as to whether it was a true kidnapping or whether Luke Mullen voluntarily went off. Thorne, still in trouble with his boss and recovering from events in the last book, is seconded to a small team working with the kidnapping squad working on the case. As Thorne investigates and looks into the whereabouts of the list of people with grudges against Tony Mullen, Luke's father, he notices the conspicuous absence of a name mentioned by his old friend who works the cold case squad, and investigation into that person starts touching off some red flags. Why hadn't Mullen included the name on his list, and why hadn't his boss added the name when shown Mullen's list? Thorne thinks something is being covered up and is aiming to find out what. It has been a couple of years at least since I read the previous book in this series, mostly because I'd found Thorne's "bad boy rebel cop" persona to become mildly boring and predictable regardless of what stupid, outrageous things he did. He hasn't changed! LOL The book is well-written, well-plotted with some interesting twists that I didn't see coming at all, and while I actually like some of Thorne's secondary characters, I find Thorne hasn't changed much from his irritating old self. I absolutely loved the first couple of books in this series, but while I liked the rest of them, I think I will have to continue to leave months/years between reading each one.

4. ASK THE CARDS A QUESTION by Marcia Muller (AUDIO) #2 Sharon McCone mystery) Grade: B Second in the series featuring San Francisco private investigator Sharon McCone. Sharon ends up investigating a killing that happens in her own building when her upstairs neighbor, elderly Mollie Antonio, is brutally strangled. Detective Greg Marcus asks her to identify the body since it seems everyone else in the building he's tried to question is either "drunk or crazy" and Sharon is horrified to note that a piece of drapery cord that possibly came from her own apartment is likely the murder weapon. As PI's are wont to do, she keeps mum about that tidbit of information and heads off into the neighborhood to question people close to Mollie, and as usual doesn't share her gleaned information with the police, putting herself and others in mortal danger. I guess since she ultimately solves the crime, that stuff doesn't matter though. Don't get me wrong, I like Sharon...it's just that I can't figure out how she's going to keep her PI license through umpteen books in the series if she keeps up that kind of behavior. LOL The reader was okay, but I have to admit that while she did okay with varying the female voices, most of the male voices sounded very similar.

5. DANCING WITH DEMONS by Peter Tremayne. (#18 Sister Fidelma historical mystery) Grade: B The High King of Eirann (Ireland) has been murdered, and while the killer isn't in question, his motives are--and since he killed himself after committing the crime, no one can ask him. The Assembly calls in Sister Fidelma to investigate as an impartial party, since they want no questions in the people's minds when the new High King is installed. So Fidelma and her husband, Brother Eadulf are once again off on a long journey to Tara, leaving their son Alchu behind in Cashel. These books are fairly formulaic, with the questioning of witnesses, the gleaning of interesting information and then the gathering at the end so Fidelma can do the big reveal. Obviously, the real killer was not who everyone asserted it was, and I didn't guess who until the end, but I had narrowed it down to one of three people. While I do enjoy these books, love the setting and the characters and the historical presence the author creates, one thing I am finding increasingly annoying is how the ancient language is incorporated into the books--a word from the ancient Irish (or Gaelic or whatever it is) is used and then it's briefly explained or defined. It's educational, but it detracts from the story and I seem to notice it more each time, which is probably why I leave so much time between them now.

6. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE NORTH by Philip Pullman. (AUDIO) Grade: A A quick prequel to Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy, this features aeronaut Lee Scoresby as a much younger man on one of his first journeys in his hot air balloon. He puts down in a far arctic region to the island of Novy Odense where he meets two unexpected characters--the first an old enemy named Pierre McConville--a hired killer currently using a different name--and the second Iorek Byrnison, the armored bear who figures so prominently in Lyra's life in the later books. A very quick and easy listen--narration skillfully done by the author himself with a cast of other readers doing the character parts. Gives a little more insight into Scoresby's character as well as Iorek Byrnison's. Delightful!

7. SEASON OF DARKNESS by Maureen Jennings. (KINDLE) (#1 Inspector Tom Tyler historical mystery) Grade: C- First of a planned trilogy set in Shropshire, England in 1940. Inspector Tom Tyler is roused from his usual rather boring job in the small town of Whitchurch when one of the Land Army girls is found brutally murdered and posed. England is at war, and these girls are trucked in from the cities to help farmers with crops while most of the men are serving their country. The killing rouses suspicion that there may be a "Jerry" on the loose who possibly parachuted in, but Tyler believes the killer is much closer to home. When the post-mortem reveals that the girl was struck by a vehicle first and shot afterwards, he's almost certain of it. The question is whether it was a crime of chance or whether someone deliberately targeted the girl and why. Suspicion naturally falls first to the people of German descent interred at a local camp, although he's been assured that they are mostly harmless Jews who were also enemies of Hitler, having fled Germany for safer environs. Security also seems tight there, so it's unlikely that any of the men could have escaped--especially with use of a vehicle to have hit the girl with. The second death of another of the girls complicates the investigation even more. Tyler's investigation is further complicated by the return of his former lover, Clare, now married to a wealthy Swiss businessman. She is working as an interpreter and censor in the camp and seems interested in renewing their affair, even though Tyler is married too, albeit unhappily. Tyler is also worried about his son Jimmy, recently returned from the battle at Dunkirk with a bad case of shell shock, and with other family problems. I wanted to like this book more than I did, and I can't actually pinpoint exactly what it was that made me want to just get it finished by the time I got to the middle part. It seemed a bit put on if that makes any sense...like the author was trying TOO hard to make you think it was 1940, but you could still see the modern-day interpretation of things on the surface of it all. It didn't have the atmosphere of immersing you in the time and place like any good historical fiction or mystery book does, and I'm not sure just what the magic ingredient is but it was missing here. I won't be continuing this series if it does turn into a series.

8. GREY MASK by Patricia Wentworth (KINDLE) (#1 Miss Silver mystery) Grade: C This is the first in a long series of mysteries featuring an older woman named Miss Silver as the detective. It's a very old series, this book being written in 1928 and it did seem rather dated. Written in a rather different style from most modern detective stories, you really don't find out much of anything about Miss Silver nor get to read about her detecting techniques or anything. The story is told from the POV of several different characters involved. I was not overly crazy about the book. One of the main characters was a silly eighteen-year-old girl, recently left orphaned and she's just found out there is no legal paperwork showing that she is indeed her father's daughter, so she stands to lose a fortune. She's being protected from harm by several adults connected with the case, although she doesn't realize she's in danger. She is just...silly, giggly and I wanted to slap her into next week. I'm not sure yet if I am going to continue reading this series--others have said that some of the series books are much better than others, and I just don't think this was a good way to start. I want to know more about Miss Silver herself, otherwise why call them the "Miss Silver" mysteries?

9. THE PALE CRIMINAL by Philip Kerr (AUDIO) (#2 Bernie Gunther historical mystery) Grade: A- Second in this "Berlin noir" series set in 1930's Germany during the rise of Hitler. Bernie Gunther is a former cop, now private detective, who is approached by one of the higher-ups in the current police asking for help with a serial killer who is murdering young Aryan girls. Bernie is loathe to return to formal police work, but when the partner in his private detective agency is brutally murdered while on stakeout, he is a bit at loose ends and agrees to a short term reinstatement with a promotion to Commissar and control over the investigation. Of course, this gets up the noses of quite a few people and Bernie has never been good at toeing the Party line, so he's bound to get himself in hot water at least a few times before he figures out who the bad guy is. Fraught with political scheming and peril, Bernie knows that one wrong step could cause him to permanently disappear. Edgy and graphic, plenty of sax and violins (and I don't mean music! LOL) and much political incorrectness (as per the authenticity of the time) this would not be for the weak of stomach or lover of cozy mysteries. Definitely noir, and wonderfully read by John Lee. My only complaint is that some of the sex and violence seems to be there simply because it is expected and required and designed to shock...none of it was particularly inventive or interesting.

10. WORLD'S GREATEST SLEUTH! by Steve Hockensmith (#5 "Holmes on the Range" mystery.) Grade: A Another excellent entry in this series featuring the Amlingmeyer brothers, Big Red (Otto) and Old Red (Gustav) as they are off to Chicago to the World's Fair of 1893 to participate in a contest to determine (you guessed it!) the World's Greatest Sleuth. This is not something they volunteered for--Otto's publisher enrolled them to get publicity for his series of books and Old Red, still recovering from an incident that left him blinded for weeks, is NOT happy. Arriving at the last minute, they aren't sure exactly how the contest works, and they find themselves up against some awfully strange characters, the only friendly face being their old friend Diana Corvus. Both the brothers are hoping to impress her, but it's not exactly turning out that way...and when the man who was writing the contest clues ends up dead--smothered in a Mammoth Cheese--there are actually two contests going on...the sanctioned one, and the unofficial one to find who killed him. Hilarious and full of wry humor as well as some wonderful information and detail about the Chicago World's Fair, this was a great story and a well-plotted mystery with a bad guy that I didn't figure out nearly til the end. I do hope there will be more of these books forthcoming, although this is currently the last one.

11. MARTYR by Rory Clements (KINDLE) (#1 John Shakespeare historical mystery) Grade: C+ Did you know that William Shakespeare, the infamous playwright, had an older brother called John who was an intelligencer for Secretary Walsingham? Neither did I. LOL John begins investigating the death of a woman, a noblewoman distantly related to Queen Elizabeth. Her body is found in a burned out house, carved with profane religious symbols--and she was with child, the fetus having been sliced from her body before the fire, which only partly consumed her body. While he's investigating, he uncovers a plot to murder Sir Francis Drake, Vice Admiral of England's Royal Navy and their only hope to stave off a Spanish invasion, and must also try to foil that plot while still looking for the killer of Lady Blanche Howard. All the while, he's working at cross-purposes to one Richard Topcliffe, a trusted advisor to the Queen, who has it in for Shakespeare and always seems to be one step ahead of John's efforts. Walsingham, not wanting to incur the Queen's ire, tells Shakespeare he'll just have to put up with Topcliffe. Set during 1587 with the backdrop of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots and the attempt by the government to hunt down and kill Catholic priests and arrest those found practicing Catholicism, this book was gripping at the same time as it felt tired and rehashed. The author used a lot of well-documented details to flesh out and authenticate parts of the story, but anyone who's read a bit of Elizabethan history will have heard most of it before. The story had an interesting beginning, but I found the intrigue to peter out a bit towards the middle and became rather predictable, even down to the romantic twist for Shakespeare. I'll probably read the next one in the series, although it won't be anytime soon.

12. THREE-DAY TOWN by Margaret Maron (AUDIO) (#17 Judge Deborah Knott mystery, also featuring the main character from her other series, Sigrid Harald.) Grade: B Deborah and Dwight are off to New York for a week for a much-postponed honeymoon with keys to their sister-in-law Kate's apartment where they'll stay. Deborah also totes a package for the daughter of a local woman, but discovers on arriving that she is out of the country on an extended holiday, so informed by Sigrid Harald, the woman's daughter. She asks Deborah to open the package--it's a rather obscene statuette--and makes arrangements to pick it up. But by the time she arrives, there's a dead body in the apartment (Deborah and Dwight being at a party down the hall) and the figurine is missing. I love the Judge Deborah books and the characters so much, I'm not sure I can write a really objective review as these are always like visits with old friends. But this one seemed a bit "off" to me, and perhaps it was the incorporation of Sigrid Harald--the main character in Maron's other series--that does it. I was disappointed at this on a personal level as I've not yet started reading that series and felt there were some things shared that will be spoilers for me when I do go back and start them. But the whole story seemed too scattered with an extra person's point of view in there. Possibly also the moving of the book from Deborah's home base of Colleton County. Whatever the reason, I didn't enjoy this production (although CJ Critt was fabulous as usual!) as much as previous ones. Still good, though!

13. SKIN DEEP by Timothy Hallinan (KINDLE) (#1 Simeon Grist mystery--although it was actually published third) Grade: C Simeon Grist is a private investigator in Hollywood, and one day while consuming beverages at a local tavern has the unfortunate experience of meeting Toby Vane, famous TV personality--although Simeon doesn't know at the time who he is. He starts knocking his date about in the pub, and Simeon intervenes--and quick as you can blink, he ends up hired by the star's manager with a job babysitting Toby and keeping him out of trouble. Not an easy task by anyone's estimation! And when the brutally murdered body of one of the nude dancers Toby was seen leaving her club with is found on the stage at the club, Simeon realizes his client could be in real hot water unless he takes the time to investigate. This book was...well, let me be honest. If I had not already read Timothy Hallinan's other series featuring Poke Rafferty, I would most likely have stopped reading this book well before my 50-page rule. It starts out...well, it's cheesy, rather amateurish and cliched, and I actually laughed in places I'm pretty sure I wasn't supposed to. However, I persevered, and it does actually get better by about mid-book although it is nowhere near the quality and calibre of the author's later writing. The author has said that this was the first book in the series, but it was passed over in favor of two other books in the series that ended up being published before this one. I can understand why, given my initial reaction to the book. I can only assume they get better, and I think Mr. Hallinan can certainly be very proud of how much his writing has improved and matured over time, as Poke Rafferty is one of my top ten favorite mystery series ever. I will look forward to watching Simeon develop!

14. THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD by John Le Carre. (AUDIO) Grade: A+ This audio version of the classic spy novel was a full-cast production with sound effects and it was wonderful! It features George Smiley (of Le Carre's spy series) but only peripherally and is primarily about Alec Leamas, one of Smiley's contemporaries, who goes in deep cover without support in another attempt to bring down Mundt, the notorious German spy. Excellent!!

DNF: THE ANATOMIST'S APPRENTICE by Tessa Harris. Read about 20% of it on my Kindle and just couldn't get interested in it. Also SPEAKS THE NIGHTBIRD by Robert McCammon--his minutely detailed descriptions of people and their clothing was so distracting from the story, I couldn't read more than 80 pages before wanting to hurl the book across the room.