Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Girl with the...

Short Attention Span

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Stieg Larsson
2008 (English translation) Alfred A. Knopf
(originally Män som hatar kvinnor – "Men Who Hate Women", 2005)
Norstedts, Stockholm

You'd have to be dead or comatose for the last several years to not know about this "Millennium"series published posthumously after Larsson's death in 2004. I've read Girl was the first million copy e-book. The widely promoted Daniel Craig vehicle/American/English movie (see photo) that follows close on the heels of the Swedish language version just opened. Personally I spent my Christmas Day movie capital on Sherlock Holmes but that is another matter.

I  finally read it after several years and found it interesting in some ways but  a bit slow-going. Many online commentators describe it as a mystery for those who don't read mysteries or who have grander ambitions for their reading time than some whodunit. Some believe that Larsson was murdered by mysterious forces due to his muckraking journalism rather than died of natural causes. His death adds a certain frisson to the reading. As many people have written, you need something to keep you slogging through the first 100 pages before journalist Mikael Blomquist finally starts seriously investigating the mystery disappearance of heiress Harriet Vanger at the behest of her still grieving uncle Henrik.

So much has been said about this best-seller that I will not reiterate but make the following observations:
1) I am not a huge fan of the claustrophobic Scandinavian SAD novels with their gruesome crimes and endless glasses of aquavit and herring sandwiches
2)  This novel really makes a case against the Swedish welfare state in which an employed young adult is kept in perpetual trusteeship by being uncooperative. This book does not make you want to visit Sweden!
3) Mikael Blomquist, also a journalist and muckraker and possibly a stand in for Larsson himself, can get any woman, even the most unattainable, merely by wandering by. Perhaps if he really looked like Daniel Craig. He seems a very uninteresting character, self-involved, and not very well-drawn or understandable.
4) Lisbeth Salander is an interesting character - her original solution to her victimization is quite enjoyable - but I think one gets tired of her.
5) The setting is fine but the characters are boring and obvious, the dialogue kind of stupid, and the financial crime sub-plot is just not that shocking. The main plot has a nice surprise then there are another 100 pages to get through.
6) A genre novel can rise above its conventions  and cliches into something  that takes one beyond oneself into another realm of self-knowledge and Weltanschauung. I've read some crime/mystery novels that do this Despite its reputation, Girl does not do this.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Death Comes to Pemberley...

Death Comes to Pemberley
P.D. James

I read reviews of this book and heard P.D. (Baroness) James herself on NPR talking about it. How she had thought about doing something like a mystery based on Jane Austen's novels. She chose to make the mystery a sequel to the classic Pride and Prejudice. No zombies. I love both Jane Austen and P.D. James so I looked forward to it. Also having greatly enjoyed Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen as detective and secret agent series, it was interesting to think what P.D. James would do with this material so different in some ways that that of her contemporary protagonists Adam Dalgleish, London Police commander, or detective Cordelia Grey. But those are cerebral introspective detectives relying on instinct and emotions as well as logic. they are well written, atmospheric novels. My personeal favorites include The Black Tower, Murder Room and the Skull Beneath the Skin.

James picks up the story begun in Pride and Prejudice and uses the same characters. She begins 5 years after Lizzy and Darcy and Bingley and Jane have all married and had families. The folks at Pemberley are planning Lady Anne's ball, held each year in honor of Darcy's late mother. Amid the hustle of the preparations for the ball, something terrible happens. Wickham, despised Wickham, is involved.

Well, it's well written and kind of cerebral. The innermost thoughts of Darcy and Lizzy are laid out- both have regrets and all kinds of complicated emotions. They are still very much in love- each acknowling their most deeply held ideas and fears. It's not very Jane Austen though. For one, it's not witty or entertaining. Everyone, even Wickham, are so serious. It does not make anyone ridiculous. It doesn't even make fun of the clergy! Or the law, prominently displayed. I found the change in voice, the introspection, complicated feelings and regrets so unJane-like it was a bit disturbing. Then I got over any notion that this was a Jane Austen novel rather than a P. D. James and started to enjoy it. Especially the police procedural and trial bits. I didn't so much like James bringing in references to other novels like Emma and Persuasion. P.D.! Please murder one Jane Austen novel at a time. Thank you.

So on the whole, good stuff. Most enjoyable Regency crime novel. Don't think about Jane too
much and you'll like it. Or check out these folks for some fan fiction: http://www.pemberley.com/

One for the Money movie premier

Trenton area Stephanie Plum fans are invited to join a bunch of other fans at the Hamilton AMC 24 on January 27. 2012. Time is TBA. Please comment or contact me if you are interested.

Janet Evanovich On Love, Laughs And Being A Voyeur (NPR)

This is from NPR's website accessed on my iPad app.:
All Things Considered 12/15/2011

Best-selling author Janet Evanovich has a lot to laugh about: She's sold more than 75 million novels.

Her latest, Explosive Eighteen, is the 18th in a series of crime novels featuring Jersey girl Stephanie Plum, a bounty hunter with big hair and an even bigger personality. She works for her bail bondsman cousin, has a couple of love interests and many laughs along the way.

Evanovich started out as a romance writer. She tells NPR's Lynn Neary that it was a pretty simple existence.

But then she introduced the world to Stephanie Plum.

"The first thing that happened to me, of course, is that I sold it to the movies," the author says. "And I sold it for $1 million."

Suddenly, her family's lives changed. She and her agent husband paid off their children's school loans, and then the kids joined the empire that became Team Evanovich: Her daughter handles the website, her son the finances.

Plum is not autobiographical, though Evanovich gave the character a lot of her own history as a way to keep her consistent.

"I wanted this to go on for a long time," she says.

Evanovich says she knew she wanted her heroine to be likable — tenacious yet vulnerable, a little flexible in her makeup. "She wouldn't be perfect but she would try very hard," she says.

As a romance writer, Evanovich had to give Plum some hot guys in her life, so of course, there's a love triangle. The author likes that her heroine is a bit indecisive.

"We all live a little vicariously through her," she says. "How bad is that? Here's this woman who sometimes can't get the snap together on the top of her jeans and she has a lot of bad hair days and she's not fabulous at her job, but she sort of gets it done. She doesn't have a great car, and she has these two amazing men who just think she's the most attractive woman on Earth. We should all have this problem."

Plum doesn't take herself too seriously, though.

"I think this is a good thing in today's world," Evanovich says, "because I think there are a lot of people out there who do take themselves way too seriously. And, you know, we need a little humor in our lives to balance all that out.

"We don't appreciate the value of humor sometimes. You can get through very serious and sometimes horrible and sometimes embarrassing and very awkward situations with humor. It gives us a way out."

After 18 Stephanie Plum novels, Evanovich has no problem coming up with ideas.

"There's just so much craziness out there in the world; it's like I couldn't fit them all in my books," she says. "I'm a real voyeur. I go to bars and restaurants, and I sit and I eavesdrop on people and I watch people in shopping centers and, you know, I read the newspapers and I talk to the Trenton cops, and I just get a lot of information that comes in that somehow turns into a book." [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Chrstopher Hitchens

I was sad and upset to read of the death of Christopher Hitchens, curmudgeonly essayist and author who died Thursday at 62. I first read his stuff in in Vanity Fair years ago and regularly read his column, Fighting Words, in Slate - either in agreement with his erudite spearing of his subject or yelling at his pigheaded wrongness. He got to play Devil's Advocate for the canonization of Mother Theresa for example. In the face of so many poorly written and ill-chosen words in the world, I will miss his columns dreadfully.

"The instruments we have agree/the day of his death was a dark cold day..."

Christopher Hitchens Is Dead at 62 — Obituary
Christopher Hitchens wrote in the tradition of Thomas Paine and George Orwell and trained his sights on targets as various as Henry Kissinger, the British monarchy and Mother Teresa.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

November Reads

Elizabeth's Women by Tracy Borman
Not a mystery, but a well researched history of the women in the life of Queen Elizabeth I, this reads like a novel and I couldn't put it down even thoough I am well familiar with the life and times of the queen. If you like Elizabethan mysteries like those of Fiona Buckley or Karen Harper, both of which feature QEI as a character,it's fascinating to read some of the real history.

Queen's Cure
Karen Harper

Speaking of. Very good mystery and the facts are pretty solid. They have a fairly light tone, which does seem a bit at odds with the material but still good. them Plan to read the rest of the series. Fiona Buckley's Ursula Blanchard mysteries are also very good with a gritty edge to them. She has a new one coming in January.

Sup with the Devil
Barbara Hamilton

Latest Abigail Adams mystery. The plot was intricate and a bit confusing. But the background is really well done, although I keep seeing Laura Linney and Paul Giametti as John and Abigail. Set at Harvard where Abigail's nephew is studying, the story takes you on a claustrophobic romp through the dark woods in search of pirate gold or early pornography just
as the king is declaring martial law in Boston due to the recent tea party.

Three-Day Town
Margaret Maron

For those who like Deborah Knott, you'll like it. I like her better in Colleton County with her terrific family. She seems a little out of her depth in NYC. This also features Maron's other detective, annoyingly stoic police detective Sigrid Harald.

Air time
Hank Phillipi Ryan

This time Charlie McNally is investigating counterfeit designer purses while trying not to wreck her first real love in ages. I felt like I learned a lot. About designer purses that is. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Cipher Garden
Martin Edwards

Another favorite. So well written and enjoyable.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Poison Pen!

Just what to take moment to praise the publisher, Poison Pen. Really finding a lot of good new crime fiction published by them. A lot of non-traditional detectives, interesting settings, and characters. I look forward to the next PP author I read.

Recent reads

Pirate King, Laurie King
A Crimson Warning, Tasha Alexander

Two new novels in these popular and well-written historical series. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. They share appealing heroines in Mary Russell (Mrs. Sherlock Holmes) and Lady Emily Hargreaves. Both have interesting historical settings and characters.

Pirate is set in the post-WWI British film industry, a story about a film within a film (of Pirates of Penzance) set in Portugal with a real and scary pirate and various other folks. I've enjoyed every one of the revisionist Mary Russell mysteries. They are a cut above - amusing and thought provoking with interesting slice of history with interesting settings and still a hint of the curmudgeonly charm that makes Conan Doyle's Holmes so enduring. Anyway, this one is a bit tedious with its silly film plot and it takes a long time to get to the point. Mary is still appealing, the dialogue is fun, and Portugal/North Africa setting dreamy and scary.

Crimson, the latest in the Lady Emily series, is set in Victorian England. Lady Emily is a bit of classics scholar turned detective and secret agent. I complained about her two previous novels set, respectively, in Turkey and France (http://hitormystery.blogspot.com/2010/01/tears-ofboredom.html and http://hitormystery.blogspot.com/2011/04/mad-bad-and.html).

This latest one has her back in London in her high society life in which she is not entirely comfortable. It's hard to feel too much sympathy with the perfect Lady Emily and her romance novel marriage. Her friends think she's brilliant - only her mother doesn't like her (thank God for this). Red paint is splashed on the houses of those with secrets and all society is afraid - a horrific murder, mysterious downtrodden deaf people, and Ivy (sweet Ivy!) has a secret. And those who dislike Emily must be odious. But I still found things to enjoy - such as glimpses of Victorian society, the British Museum and Library.

So I recommend both with qualifications. Read the early books in these series!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

One for the money, the movie

Looks good...
See the trailer...

One for the Money

Sunday, October 23, 2011

And I'm in paradise...

Waterloo Sunset
Martin Edwards
Poison Pen

This is the second Martin Edwards novel I've read. Loved the Lake district setting of The Coffin Trail. Waterloo Sunset is part of his series set in Liverpool featuring lawyer Harry Devlin. I read it with my iPad map next to me scoping out all the sights and sounds of Liverpool, a city that frankly is not on my list of cities to visit in the UK. Edwards presents it so wonderfully I am having second thoughts. Not about the Beatles tour but about the Liver Building, the Strand, and the Iron Men in the Mersey. And the history, Liverpool is the stepping off point for so many ships to the Americas including the one my great-grandmother Rebecca took in 1905. And Waterloo Sunset is one of my fav. Kinks songs. Like most people I assumed they meant Waterloo in London but possibly not. After all there must be Waterloos all over the UK, right?

Anyway Harry and co. Are wonderful characters and the setting is superb. In this one Harry is getting a death threat, has re-met his old squeeze Juliet May, who (was/is) married to a brutal thug, and his management consultant is all over him to modernize. Harry and his partner Jim have moved into a new shiny office in a re-habbed building full of secrets. And there's a nice young cleaner who helps out. Charming characters and dialogue, first rate setting, and I like Harry probably more than Daniel Kind, the Lake District nob.

I've got the Cipher Garden, another in the Lake District series, on hold at the library and life is good! I intend to read through the rest of the Liverpool series too. Well worth it. http://www.martinedwardsbooks.com/

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Crack in Everything

A Crack in Everything
Angela Gerst
Poison Pen

I admit to wanting to read this novel for the title. It's a Leonard Cohen quote that somehow rings true to me even when I don't know what it's about. Occupy, recession, Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Sudan, eurozone crash- who can deny that there's a crack in everything? Seems like that more than ever at times. Leonard Cohen goes on to say that's how the light gets in. But that remains to be seen.

In this novel, protagonist Susan Callisto (like in Xena, Warrior Princess?) is a lawyer and election advisor for small-town candidates in Massachusetts. A shady guy with a bitchy ex-(or is she?) wife comes to her for help getting elected mayor, and long story short soon a bunch of people are dead. At the same time Susan is trying to get another guy with a troublesome wife eLected Alderman and help her oldest client keep his restaurant. Her life has kind of fallen apart since she's broken up with her cop boyfriend.

This is well-written and fairly fast paced - is it an accidental detective sub? The dialogue is hard boiled and Susan likably cynical. I enjoyed it, enjoyed the political consulant background and found it interesting and unusual. I couldn't work up much sympathy for the stiffs in question and the plot unravelling was pret unbelievable but on the whole a good read.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Naughty in Nice- light but pleasant

Naughty in Nice
Rhys Bowen

Another mystery about the broke but Royal and 34th in the line of succession Lady Georgiana. It has some fun with famous folks like Coco Chanel, Wallis Simpson and her captive prince, Nazi sympathizer "David" later Edward 8th who abdicated to stay with the vulgar Baltimorean. Not that the two things are synonymous. Anyway, Georgie get a trip to Nice where she has to stay with SIL Fig and her equally horrible sister Ducky until she's rescued by an unlikely person- her ne'er do well actress mum. I must say I'm profoundly glad the lower classes don't go in for hideous nicknames. The whole thing is a rather silly romp. I finished it in a few relaxed hours and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Real thrillers

Reading Top Secret America by Dana Priest and William M. Arkin
Little, Brown (2011)

This is an incredible true tale of intrigue. The explosive growth of the espionage and anti-terrorism industry after 9/11 is detailed in impressively mind numbing fashion. The numbers of new agencies and programs is emormous. Priest and Arkin pose the question - which of these programs are making us safer and have prevented terror attacks to date? Not the TSA, that's for sure. All of this stuff is top secret and even your congressman/woman doesn't know what's happening so no or little oversight. Is it out of control? This is more scary than any thriller or horror novel - since WE'RE paying for this stuff! When you're wanting a break from fiction, try this.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Latest Jane

Jane and the Canterbury Tale
Stephanie Barron

As promised just finished the latest in the Jane Austen detective series. As with previous books, it is delightful but a bittersweet pleasure for Jane fans, see http://www.janeausten.org/, knowing that Jane, 38 in this story, has only a short time left but some of her most brilliant novels ahead of her. In the story, Jane is working on Emma, possibly my favorite of her novels.

What is so sweet and wonderful in these novels is how Barron mixes the known facts and Austen's letters with well-drawn fiction. Many of the witty and wise lines are from the novels themselves. In this one she is visiting her brother Edward and his mature and headstrong daughter Fanny at his house near Canterbury. Fanny being something of an inspiration for Emma.

It is true and widely acknowledged that Jane knew more about the world she lived in than makes it into her novels due to her many brothers (Frank and Charles both became admirals and Henry married a French countess) and her travels and sojourns in places like Bath, Southhampton, London, Brighton, and Lyme Regis. http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/janeinfo.html

See some of my earlier posts on this wonderful series by clicking on the Jane Austen label.

Murder ensues- and the plot is as twisty and satisfying as one could wish. It is maybe a little slow in some of the sections. I did also pretty much guess the solution but that is not really the point! I have to say I really love the earlier ones in which Jane assisted her friend and mentor Lord Harold round up Boney's spies but this one was still a pleasure to read.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Surfeit of good reads

All my holds came at once. Reading a bunch of new books - Pirate King, Jane and the Canterbury Tale, A Drop of the Hard Stuff, Top Secret America - more to come...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Black is the color...

India Black
Carol Carr

Lighthearted amusing stuff set in the Victorian era, this first time novel by Carr was a lot of fun to read. India Black is a self-described "whore," the "abbess" of her own establishment who becomes a spy for the Disraeli government. India is an engaging character, surviving the depredations of Victorian society without a scrap of self pity or sentimentality. It's very frank about India's work and also very funny with a darker note underlying the frivolity.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Naughty in Nice

The latest of her Royals series from Rhys Bowen is out soon. Silly but enjoyable

Friday, September 9, 2011

And every junkie's like the setting sun...

The Damage Done
Hilary Davidson

I've seen the needle and the damage done
a little part of it in everyone
but every junkie's like the setting sun...(Neil Young)

This first novel from travel writer Davidson came with some high praise -for example see: mysteryreadersinc and http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8111265-the-damage-done. and she has won high praise and awards for her short fiction. The book starts when  travel writer Lily Moore is summoned home to New York from Spain with the understanding that her junkie sister, Claudia, has died. Or has she?  Lily then is at pains to discover what has really has really happened to her sister. She enlists Claudia's friends, some extremely helpful  police detectives, and a number of other people in this quest. She also delves into Claudia's and her abusive past with suicidal alcoholic mother and a father that died on Christmas Eve when Lily was 13.The story takes a while to unfold and it is not easy to figure out "whodunit" or what, in fact, was "dun". The plot is very interesting and the final solution  was certainly a surprise. I think it was well-plotted.

I was disappointed with the characters, dialogue, and setting. I found most of the characters unpleasant and unlikable, even, and especially protagonist Lily.  I thought perhaps Davidson was doing the unreliable narrator thing with Lily (even though it's in the third person, one is given more insight into Lily's thoughts than any other character) but she wasn't. Lily is described as beautiful, talented, confident, smart, surprisingly together despite her upbringing, caring, wears stunning vintage clothing, has lots of friends, and every man who meets her falls madly in love. Her ex tells her, yes, you're so beautiful but it is your fine mind that I really admire. Frankly, Lily is ...not much fun. Other characters such as her supportive gay best friend, her demanding and rich ex-fiance Martin, and Claudia's Pakistani friend Tariq, are a bit hard to take and not very sympathetic or interesting. Minor characters like the police detectives, Martin's disturbed son, Tariq's cousin,and  the apartment super, are more interesting and a bit more sympathetic.  The setting in NYC is very flat. Surprising for a travel writer. Other people loved it and gave it super high marks.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Margaret Truman's Capital Crimes

Monument to Murder
Margaret Truman
Forge (Tom Doherty Associates)

With regret, I finished the latest in the always reliably enjoyable Capital Crimes series written by the late Margaret Truman. A mix of mystery and thriller with Ms. Truman's insider knowledge of Washington and its insidious ways adding a certain spice. I have read a lot of her books, tossed off in an afternoon or at the beach. They are well-crafted with interesting characters. Many of them feature Mackenzie Smith and his lovely wife Annabel Lee Smith.

This latest, number 20-something novel in the series, is set in Savannah as small time PI and former cop Bob Brixton is hired to look into the case of a young black hooker who may or may
not have committed a murder of a low-life outside a druggie bar in the bad side of town 20 years before. The young woman, Louise Watkins, served time for the murder before being gunned down in a drive by shooting the day she is released from prison. Her kindly, religious mother has never accepted the commonly held version of the crime and wants to know who committed this crime and who paid her daughter off to go to jail.

Brixton is a cliched and familiar honest but put-upon detective with hated ex-wife, greedy kids, politicized police pals on the take, pretty secretary, and good-natured girlfriend (he calls her Flo). The more he looks into the crime, the more he faces a series of attacks and bribes from Savannah's leading citizens.

The potential scandal reaches to Washington and the president, an ex-Georgia governor with tea party politics as ruthless as Nixon and LBJ and as bad tempered as Bill Clinton. It is not too hard to infer Margaret Truman's Democratic politics in what she says of this imaginary president. You can also read of her regret at the change in Washington from a more genteel time to the intensely polarized place it has become. Secret CIA assassination teams, murders of foreign diplomats with James Bondlike poisons, high society hostesses, and fancy catered parties are also involved. It's in the secretive and dangerous yet glamorous streets of Washington that the story gets really interesting. Mac and Annabel provide Bob with a Washington entree but are fairly minor in this tale. I have to admit I guessed the solution pretty early in the story but enjoyed it pretty well

Monday, August 29, 2011

Emily Arsenault's Broken Teaglass

The Broken Teaglass
Emily Arsenault
Delacorte Press

This unusual novel, Arsenault's debut, is set in the editorial department of a large and prestigious  New England  dictionary publisher where the new and somewhat clueless Billy has gotten his first real job. And like most entrees in to the working world, it doesn't make a lot of sense. Or it has its internal workings that are not clear to the neophyte.In this story, the mystery is concealed in clues in the citation files of words and Billy along with his mysterious would be girlfriend, Mona, set out to solve the mystery.

It's very well written . I recently reviewed her more recent In Search of the Rose Notes about a mystery in a girl's past.  She's very good with the story within a story and with a story that needs to unfold very slowly. I'm afraid I lost patience with Teaglass about halfway through. DNF but I will probably go back to it though.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Me, myself, & Irene

Hope everyone comes through the wrath of Irene ok. Batten down, stock up flashlight batteries, and lay down lots of mystery reads. This weekend will be good to catch up on reading if you aren't being evacuated!

Seriously, Love, Honour, and O'Brien by Jennifer Rowe, forthcoming Jan. 2012, is not the kind of thing I typically read and I didn't know if I would like it. Set in the picturesque Blue Mountains of Australia, it features Holly Love, a naive young woman, engaged to her dream man, who is not at all what he says he is. She leaves her secure office job to be married at the beginning thinking her fairy tale life is about to come true. Things unfold - I hate to give the plot away- but it is a lighthearted accidental detective story with some interesting twists and turns, some likable and highly unlikable characters- such as an Elvis impersonator chauffeur, kindly psychic, alcoholic detective O'Brien, a cool talking parrot and charming Holly herself. I really loved reading it. My only caveat is the ending is so abrupt I was looking to see if I had skipped pages. Not sure about that- maybe they plan a sequel to answer a lot of plot questions? Anyway, fun, amusing read with an empathetic note toward its characters foibles.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Jane and the Canterbury Tale Coming August 30th!

Jane and the Canterbury Tale
Coming August 30th!

Stephanie Barron's blog: http://www.stephaniebarron.com/canterbury-tale.php.

She's posted the first chapter and other treats, like an interview with the "gentleman rogue"

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Smokin' Seventeen

Smokin' Seventeen
Janet Evanovich

In this outing (17th- if you couldn't guess), our gal in Trenton, Bail bond enforcer, Stephanie Plum faces a serial killer leaving presents, Grandma Bella's evil eye, her mother's relentless matchmaking, her boss and cousin Vinnie's marketing schemes to save the business, and many other perils, including the ongoing Joe vs. Ranger lust fest, angry FTAs out to kill her, Lula's clothes choices, and working out of Mooner's bus to name a few. It's got some really funny stuff, some sex in a Porsche Cayenne- really!, and is a fun time even if the plot is not too memorable.

In the interest of full disclosure, I admit to living spitting distance from Trenton and the 'Burg, not that I spend much time there, so when I'm reading I try to figure out where it's all going on. Evanovich's 'Burg setting is right in spirit even if some of the streets, businesses, and locales she describes don't reallyd exist. The mythical rectangle between Hamilton, Liberty, Chambers, and Broad is real. And hair is big, nails are red, skirts are short, and food is Italian mainly.

Trenton is an interesting place. I was disappointed to hear from a pal who lives in the city that the upcoming Plum movie, a Katherine Heigl "vehicle" was shot mainly in Pittsburgh, wrong burg but we'll probably flock to see it anyway when it comes out in January 2012.

The next Plum in the series, Explosive Eighteen, will be out soon so it's not long to wait for the next installment.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Scudder # 1

The Sins of the Fathers
Lawrence Block

Definitely have read some Lawrence Block novels before. Read a few of the Bernie the burglar series (I was surprised to read they made a movie of one of them with Whoopie Goldberg in the title role). I don't like to start a series in the middle or the end so when I decided to check out his Matthew Scudder, the alcoholic ex-cop detective, I decided to the read the first one.

It starts with the murder of a girl who likes older men a little (a lot) too much by her gay roommate. Or is he? Or did he? She has a dad who wants to know about her life and what happened. The gay friend has a dad too (and those are the fathers in the title). And it's very good. Taut plot, good characters, noirish New York setting. Maybe a little dated in terms of the social situations described (but it was written almost 40 years ago).

Matt stops drinking in about book 12 and like all ex-drunks I don't know if he'll still be fun. I'm going to read more of these for sure. I don't know if I'll read all 17 but here's the latest:

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


The Sixes
Kate White

Academia seems to be a subtext of my recent reading. Kate White's latest thriller is set at a small upstate Pennsylvania college. Like a creepy version of Mean Girls, her character Phoebe Hall, a celeb. biographer who has to get out of New York in a hurry, finds a super secret mean girl clique at work at the college run by her childhood friend where she goes to teach a few classes. And by the way Phoebe had her own secret mean girl organization experience. Anyway the story is seriously suspenseful and paranoid. Thoroughly enjoyable. Fans of her Bailey Weggins beauty themed crime novels will enjoy it. Don't know if Phoebe will re-appear in another novel or if this is a stand-alone. Either way, fun stuff.

Monday, August 8, 2011

"I wandered lonely as a cloud...

...then I realized I fancied the odd pint."

The Coffin Trail
Martin Edwards

With apologies to Wordsworth, the above is a sign on a pub quoted in Martin Edwards' The Coffin Trail, a deftly written crime novel set in England's Lake District. For those of you who don't know, the Lake District is a gorgeous part of Northwestern England full of fells, moors, crags, mountains, Hadrian's Wall, and a bunch of lakes, Tarns, and waters, with stunning views. Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter are two of the famous writers associated with the Lake District. See:


Daniel, a rising Oxford Don and historian, decides to give up his academic career (Oxford and a offer from Harvard - gasp) and go live in a remote cottage with his mercurial new girlfriend Miranda in an invented portion of the Lakes. Not coincidentally, the cottage is one his childhood friend Barrie lived in when he was accused of the ghastly blood sacrifice murder of a beautiful visitor. Barrie died before he could've brought to trial by Daniel's father the late police detective. Among the mysteries attracting Daniel's attention are why his father abandoned his family when Daniel was a child, if he can really live the fantasy of a country life in the Lakes, was he in some way responsible for his former lover Aimee's suicide, what happened to Barrie, and who killed the beautiful Gabrielle? In these inquiries, he is aided (or is it really the other way around) by Hannah Scarlett, his father's old detective sergeant, who is newly appointed head of the Cumbria Cold Case squad.

The eponymous coffin trail is a trail historically by the local people to move their dead and several such trails are in use all over the Lake District such as those in Grasmere and Rydal. (see the link above).

The novel is rich with wonderful atmosphere and clever dead-on dialogue. The character of Daniel is not too appealing. He seems a bit cold and a bit too good to be true. The supporting characters are all highly enjoyable including Hannah, her awful boss (big surprise there) and squad of cops. Miranda is bit hard to take and it's easy to see their dramatic affair soon running its course. Since this one, Edwards has written two more in the series. It will be interesting to check them out

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Also Coming Soon (2011)

  • V is for Vengeance (Sue Grafton) #22- November
  • Explosive Eighteen (Janet Evanovich)- November
  • Jane and the Canterbury Tale (Stephanie Barron)- August 30

Felix Francis' Solo Debut is not quite a flying finish...

Dick Francis's Gamble
Felix Francis
Publisher: Putnam
July 26, 2011
ISBN: 0399157476
    I have read many of the late Dick Francis' thrillers starting with his early Nerve and For Kicks. His books with their English-based settings, are highly enjoyable.  Four were written with son and successor Felix since 2006. This is Felix's first solo outing and he  may need to find his own voice a bit. The horse theme unifies the series. Each has a brainy and heroic accidental detective (some become actual detectives, like Sid Halley, the rare repeat), and each has a Hitchcockian and violent plot wherein our hero must unravel the secrets or die trying- literally. Other characteristics include a well-researched back story into things like gems, banking,  restaurants, betting, kidnapping, and various aspects of horse training, racing, and riding; fairly thin characterizations; and wry if not laugh out loud dialogue. There is an edge and a sparkle to them that has made them stand out from other similar manly thrillers.

    The latest is the first one written solo by Felix in the Dick Francis tradition. It is set in the world of independent  investment firms and features Nick "Foxy" Foxworth, a former jockey who broke his neck on a race and is now a financial planner. When his work friend, Herb, is shot standing next to him at the Cheltenham Races, Nick's well-regulated world falls into chaos. He must solve the mystery or he, his girlfriend, and mother are all in mortal danger.

    The book follows the formula pretty well. Nick does seem like a typical Francis hero, not quite as charmingly self-deprecating and a little more cold than others I thought. I was taken aback by his at-first cavalier attitude to his girlfriend but that gets straightened out before long. He does seem colder and more cynical than your average Dick Francis hero. I recently read another in the series, Ten Pound Penalty, where the main character is so heroic, honest, true blue, and passionate that he convinces his father's political opponents to support the father. Nick is a bit off-putting and cynical compared to that.

    Sherri, the American sister of the murdered friend, is introduced as what? a potential love interest? then promptly dropped. Nick is also less than chivalrous to an older lady trainer putting the moves on him but not adverse to using her house as a safehouse. Nick is hot stuff to the ladies apparently.  The dialogue is a bit stiff and lacking in the wry wit, and the characters very thin. However, it was an enjoyable read so I will continue to look for the others in the series if not quite as joyously as before.

    In Search of Rose Notes: A stand-alone Connecticut based accidental detective story

    In Search of the Rose Notes
    Emily Arsenault
    July 26, 2011

    Emily Arsenault's In Search of the Rose Notes is about memory, how the past impacts the present, how the mistakes and conceits of a bunch of kids and teenagers change their lives as adults, and of course about the mysterious disappearance and death of one of them, the eponymous Rose.

    The story is told in the first person. It is narrated by the formerly troubled Nora, who grew up seemingly sane and left the insular Connecticut town once she went to college. Her rich, gifted, and somewhat creepy childhood friend, Charlotte, grew up to be a teacher in their high school. The story takes place both in the past- in 1990 when Nora and Charlotte were in 6th grade and Charlotte's baby sitter Rose disappeared, 5 years later when they are 16, around prom time, and in the present, when Rose's bones are found buried in a wicker basket.

    Nora is likable; Arsenault does not depict her as an unreliable narrator but rather a flawed but reasonable person facing the secrets and miseries of the past. I found her easy to identify with: Troubled teenage years turning into a reasonably respectable adulthood; friends with Charlotte, who is more popular and gifted; observing all the mores of the stupid little town.

    The death of Rose, who is beautiful and a wise-cracker, is told in the first chapter with the discovery of her bones. The only mystery is "whodunnit". You are hoping for no "Lovely Bones" horror - and thankfully there is none of that. There are several people that might have done it and the story is well plotted. Nora does find out who after some fairly inept investigation. The voyage into the past is interesting. I really enjoyed the description of the Time-Life books on the occult and hidden knowledge. I think I remember reading those. Pretty amusing stuff I guess finding out the hidden truths behind the ordinary is part of of a lot of people's adolescence.

    Rose Notes was well written and kept my attention even though I read some it in a car on my way back from Maine. Now I look forward to reading her  first novel, The Broken Teaglass, about clues to a past crime in a new edition of a dictionary.

    Thursday, July 28, 2011

    Vacation in Maine

    I read Felix Francis' Gamble and just finished it. Review forthcoming.

    The weather has been lovely here on Mount Desert Island, such a gorgeous place. We are starting near Southwest Harbor for those of you who know it. Are any mysteries set here? I've read the late Phil Craig's J.W. Jackson series set on the Vineyard and Sarah Graves set in Eastport. And of course, there's Murder She Wrote. Others in Maine? New England?

    Monday, July 18, 2011

    One for the Money - movie

    I just read that Katherine Heigl is going to be Stephanie Plum in an upcoming movie. And Debbie Reynolds as Grandma Mazur! Really! Sounds pretty cool. Jan. 2012. I wonder if they'll shoot any of it in Trenton?

    One for the Money

    I forgot to mention that the new Plum novel, Smokin' Seventeen is now out. Can't wait to read it. (I'm on the waiting list at the library). For those of you who have not had the pleasure, they are tremendous fun with a light, frothy romance side. With a little bit gritty and not too nice Trenton thrown in. They've got a pretty good Jersey feel to them, too.

    Saturday, July 16, 2011

    Upcoming (early 2012) Sara Paretsky novel

    Thursday Sara Paretsky posted a tantalizing excerpt from her new V.I. Warshawski novel Breakdown

    Or see a link to her blog (lower right on this page under "Creme de la Crime").

    Sounds intriguing. Sara Paretsky's V. I. novels are  so good since Sara Paretsky allows V.I. to change and grow -  to age.  And to feel regrets and the resonance of past events and mistakes. The depth and richness of the novels have only improved as the series has continued. And that is not typical. I hope that old friends like Lotty, Sal, and Mr. Contreras will be showing up too. Looking forward to this new one.

    Saturday, July 9, 2011

    Letter to a lost sister

    Rosamund Lupton

    This is not your usual jigsaw puzzle kind of crime novel that provides an easy couple of hours of escape or amusement. Bee first hunts for her missing pregnant younger sister then hunts for her killer while everyone- police, mother, boyfriend - are convinced her sister committed suicide during drug fueled post-partum psychosis. Bee at first is hidebound, corporate, and conservative ready to scold her arty "free spirit" little sister Tess but that all falls apart as the story goes on.

    Bee is soon living in Tess' house, wearing her clothes, and questioning her friends, acquaintances, and former lovers: the baby's jerky art tutor father, Simon the ineffectual stalker, Kasia a pregnant Polish immigrant with an abusive boyfriend, and the doctors who are part of a controversial cystic fibrosis gene therapy trial.

    The story winds around in a satisfying way - there are several possible killers. Frankly, Tess knew some awful men.

    The relationship of the sisters, their mother, dead brother, form the emotional heart of the story and it is very moving and sad. Something about how you can only express your deepest feelings for your sister when it is too late. I don't have a sister so exploring that is new territory.

    The dialogue is well written and the characters interesting. The London setting is serviceable but not very descriptive. I did find the medical stuff unconvincing - the way babies are delivered or drug trials conducted does not ring true, more research needed there? But the heartbreaking relationship of the sisters, how Bee redeems herself as a human, that is deeply moving.

    It is refreshing to read an accidental detective story that is not the first of a series, at least I don't think so!

    Wednesday, July 6, 2011

    Mercury Rising...

    Mercury's Rise
    Ann Parker
    Poisoned Pen Press
    4th in the Silver Rush series

    Publication date November 2011

    Set in 1880s Colorado, this series features Inez Stannert, a smart, well-born saloon owner and card-sharp married to an untrustworthy con man. This particular book focuses on a TB sanatorium and resort in the mountains of Colorado near Colorado Springs before TB could be effectively treated or cured. Many desperate people tried all kinds of elixirs,  nostrums, potions, and strange notions before the bacteria that causes TB and the antibiotics that cure it were discovered.

    Inez is likable and the setting very interesting and well-drawn. The supporting characters are also interesting. I guess these fall into the Talented Amateur sub-gen. It might be nice to read this along with Diane Mott Davidson's Goldy Schultz mysteries for a different view of Colorado ... or Hunter S. Thompson. Anyway, a well-written series for the historical mystery buff, especially if you fancy the old west.

    Also... new Laurie King

    New Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes improbably called The Pirate King. Apparently more Pirates of Penzance than ...of the Caribbean...

    Monday, July 4, 2011

    New Deborah Crombie coming soon

    No Mark Upon Her
    Coming out in the US: February 2012

    I'm really looking forward to it. Her previous outings with Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, police procedurals set in the UK were enjoyable and the setting so convincing you'd never know that Crombie is a Texan. She does spend a lot of time in the UK. Good stuff.

    As I point out in a previous post, she explores many different parts of London in her novels ~ http://hitormystery.blogspot.com/2010/03/deborah-crombie-cant-believe-she-lives.html.

    And here's an article by Ms. Crombie where she explains what areas of London her novels explore and how she feels about it:

    I kind of agree but  never figured out a way to spend half my time in the UK. I'll have to write my own novel set on the Ridgeway or do something complicated with the Thames or tides like in Sayers' Have His Carcase.

    Sunday, July 3, 2011

    Missing Persons

    Missing Persons
    Clare O'Donohue
    Plume (penguin)
    Just finished this in the car on the way back from Orlando - it was so good I kept reading it every chance I got. It is apparently the first in a series featuring Kate Conway, a freelance true crime TV producer. O'Donohue has worked in this field and her depiction reads true. Kate, busy looking into the disappearance of a sweet, pretty young nurse for a TV show also called Missing Persons, experiences a true crime in her own life when her estranged soon to be ex-husband dies under mysterious circumstances. She soon becomes the main suspect, befriends her husband's girlfriend, and has to deal with a kooky cast of characters including her husband's crazy mother, the overbearing mother of the missing nurse, her film crew, and the police.

    The story is set in Chicago but it is a kinder softer Chicago than Sara Paretsky's with less detail and color. Nonetheless, the plotting is tight and twisting - and strings you along like one of those 48-hours like TV shows. The characters are very well drawn, flawed, interesting, and complex. The solution to the crime is not at all what I expected, actually I never figured it out at all, and kept reading to the end, anticipating the solution, - a very clever - and sad one - and for the pleasure of loner Kate's company.

    Tuesday, June 28, 2011

    J.A. Jance's Joanna Brady series

    Dead Heat
    I actually may have read this one before. I have read some of the other Joanna Brady series and decided to read the 1st one. Jance has written numerous series all set in Arizona. Recently I have also been reading her Ali Reynolds series about a fired over-40 TV anchor. Jance's writing style is smooth and her dialogue believable. This first book in the Joanna Brady series falls into the accidental detective genre after Joanna must investigate her dead husband's murder. The Arizona desert setting - Bisbee in this case- is well-drawn and Joanna is a likable character. The ending is a bit obvious but it is an easy and fun read. The Ali Reynolds series is similar in feeling with a cool setting in Sedona although I think Hank Phillippi Ryan's Charlotte McNally series is a bit more realistic in its depiction of the aging female news reporter. Both series provide strong depictions of women - sympathetically depicted working mothers- who fight back against terrible situations of loss and betrayal to win but also find their lives changed forever.

    Thursday, June 23, 2011

    Latest DNFs

    DNF =Did not finish

    Spider Web  by Earlene Fowler
    Death of A Cozy Writer by G. M. Malliet
    Union Quilters by Jennifer Chiaverini

    I don't know what was wrong; I always liked Earlene Fowler before, despite the quilt theme, but started to read her latest Benni Harper (cozy?)  and just couldn't keep going. Death of a Cozy Writer was amusing - I laughed out loud at some of the dialogue but all of the characters were unpleasant  and not people I wanted to spend time with. I could give it another try some other time. More quilts! Jennifer Chiaverini's quilt maker series set during the Civil War deserves another try!

    James Patterson's Women's Murder Club

    1st to Die
    Little Brown & Co.
    ISBN 978-044661003

    This is the first of a series of books, then a TV movie and short-lived (2007-2008) TV series about four women in different branches of law enforcement, who come together as an informal, unsanctioned task force to solve terrible crimes, in this case, the serial killing of attractive newlyweds on their wedding nights. The first of the women is SFPD Homicide Detective Inspector Lindsay Boxer. She is joined by her friends medical examiner Claire Washburn, reporter Cindy Thomas, and assistant DA Jill Berhhardt. All are tough and battled their way to the top with their spunk and determination. All are over 30 and attractive. Their initial meetings are fueled by Boxer's illness and  her need for help on this case.

    I had never read any of Patterson's many books before since I prefer not to read crime fiction about serial killers. In this one, the serial killer element was not too disturbing - and - to say anymore would ruin some of the surprises. It also features an absolutely dreadful person who is a best-selling true thriller  novelist, which I  assume is a little tongue in cheek fun from Patterson. The novel was intricately plotted, very readable, the characters likable although a little thin and obvious, the dialogue OK if not sparkling, and I think I will definitely read more of this murder club series. I would call it a police procedural with some overtones of a legal thriller. It's a "jigsaw of a mystery" as Lord Peter famously described it and one does not get too wrapped up in the characters.

    It has some other things going on - the illness, some romance and sex scenes that are pretty obviously written by a man (yes, catching a murderer and swimming in an ice cold lake as foreplay!) The romance, Boxer's with a fellow police detective, has doomed written all over it, since she keeps saying how he's a keeper and can see living the rest of her life with him. Bang! It is set in San Francisco but except for some mentions of SF neighborhoods like Russian Hill and startling views, it could have been anywhere.   This is not a book to read for the local color. # 2 is 2nd Chance (2003). I will definitely check it out.

    Sunday, June 12, 2011


    I try to talk about the sub-genres of crime fiction in my reviews. I  never thought about the definitions of these  before I started this blog (although I had heard the terms bandied about). I only knew if I liked it or not. this blog has really changed my thought process about what I read and why I like it and I never really thought about that before.  It's  niche, sub genre, a tiny part of the reading public we fit within (and can be marketed to!)

    With that in mind I did a little research into the sub-genre category and found these handy and neat definitions in the for mystery addict listserve:

    Fred Runk's definitions on 4MA. All of these have substantial followings.

    I present this here and add  a little (see italics):

    1. Police procedurals: police officers, sheriffs, FBI, law enforcement officers in general. PD James' Dalgleish for example, King's Kate Martinelli.  
    Martha Grimes' Richard Jury, J.D. Robb's Eve Dallas, Deborah Crombie's Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid, Louise Penny's Armande Gamache, J.A. Jance's Joanna Brady. This is one of the most popular types - some are set in the past, future, or an exotic locale.

    2. Talented Amateurs: Like Emma Peel! Agatha Christie's "Miss Marple," Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael, Sayer's Lord Peter Wimsey, or anyone who ends up stumbling over an inordinate number of dead bodies. This also includes non-human detectives.   
    I hate dog and cat mysteries; let me say that again! There are lots of these like Diane Mott Davidson's caterer Goldy Schultz, Hank Phillippi Ryan's Charlotte McNally, Sarah Graham's Jacobia Tiptree, Earlene Fowler's Benni Harper, Carolyn Hart's Annie Darling, Susan Wittig Albert's China Bayles, David Skebbins' Warren Ritter, C.S. Harris' Sebastian St. Cyr. Some of these are cosies if they feature minimal violence, cute settings, bunch of friends, and warm community. Some have a recipe or craft component. Historical mysteries often have these kind of detectives.

    3. P. I.: private investigators who are professionals (they get paid, or are supposed to, anyway), and not connected to police--Philip Marlowe; Sam Spade; Kinsey Millhone; or Steven Saylor's Roman PI, Gordianus the Finder; or Precious Ramotswe of the Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency.
    Sharon McCone, Sherlock Holmes, V.I. Warshawski, Spenser, Tess Monaghan...

    4. The Accidental Detective: one who accidentally comes across a murder or goes to the funeral of a deceased friend or relative and inds out there are some strange elements connected to that death.
    Agatha Christie's Anne Beddingfeld (about my favorite of her books), Dick Francis one-time heroes, BTW), gosh, it's really hard to think of these...
    Note: accidental detectives are one time only. Either they solve the mystery and are never seen again, or they end up in the "Talented Amateur" category when they show up in book 2.

    5. Judicial Detectives: anybody connected with the legal system who spends more time doing the cops' job than their own. This includes various judges, lawyers, DA's, bailiffs, bounty hunters.  
    Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum, Linda Fairstein's Alexandra Cooper.

    6. Technical professionals: medical examiners, pathologists, coroners, CSI types, SOCO's, etc. Many of these also spend an inordinate amount of time doing police work, interviewing suspects, etc.  
    Lisa Black's Theresa McClean, Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta, Ariana Franklin's Adelia Aguilar.

    7. the historical detective--Brother Cadfael, Crowner John, Gordianus the Finder, etc.  
    Fred thinks this fit in the above categories - and they do - either as police procedurals (Anne Perry's Charlotte and Thomas Pitt), professional PIs (Anne Perry's Thomas Monk), amateur detectives (Sebastian St. Cyr, Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily, Rhys Bowen's Lady Georgiana, Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody, Adelia Aguilar) but I think it's a significant sub-category.

    8. the "real person" detective--Jane Austen, Queen Elizabeth, Charles Dickens, etc. (Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen series, Queen Victoria, and Virginia Woolf mysteries were terrific, I've read ones that featured Bertie the Prince of Wales, Charlotte Bronte, Abigail Adams, Ed Ifkovic's Edna Ferber; I'm waiting for novels with Lord Byron, Eleanor Roosevelt, Al Gore, Elizabeth Taylor... I don't know... Winston Churchill, Bismarck, Abraham Lincoln, Mary Lincoln...

    9. the retired "detective": retired cop, judge, lawyer, FBI profiler.....(see above...)

    Any other categories I've missed?

    10. Spy novels mysteries (like recently reviewed Sally Sin)
    11. Others? Zombie Hunters, Supernatural (Vampire) - Anita Blake

    Saturday, June 11, 2011

    Off Topic Post -- Body Image and Eating Disorders

    Harriet's Blog on eating disorders
     her website

    My high school friend Harriet just joined as a follower of my  blog. Thanks! My blog is devoted to lighter genre fiction but I was reminded of the importance of her latest book and its message. The book is Brave Girl Eating (William Morrow (August 24, 2010), and it recounts the harrowing story of  her daughter's illness with anorexia and her recovery. The story has a happy ending and the daughter is now back in college and doing OK.

    I am reminded of how our personal struggles are not really personal but the price of living in our modern world. Ambiguous messages of society are written in our bodies and our minds. Our tattoos and piercings,  the evidence of our work patterned on our bones, food we consume, alcohol, and for many of  us - the struggles with weight and to control our bodies - sometimes mine seems like an out of control bronco - are all written on our bodies with marks we carry to our graves. The messages on our minds - and even more terrible - within our children's minds, are even harder to understand, change, or  eradicate.

    My daughter says the cover is reminiscent of Twilight; I assume this is intentional. Anyway, this book is a good one in your arsenal if you have teenagers or someone struggling with body image issues.

    Sunday, June 5, 2011

    Latest "home repair is homicide"

    Sarah Graves
    Bantam Books (Random House)
    ISBN 978-0-553-80789-9

    The latest book in this long running series set in Eastport, Maine has an eerie page-turner plot I couldn't stop reading (read it in one day). If you follow this series it features Jacobia (Jake) Tiptree, a former wall street investor to the mob and former abused wife to a womanizing brain surgeon. Jake now resides in an old house in Eastport, a federal style from 1823. Not the Victorian on the cover presumably. In the intervening years she's done a lot of paint scraping and sanding and acquired a boat captain husband, Wade, and local BFF Ellie. This one, as many do, involved a person from her sordid past coming back to kill her on the 4th of July. As a cozy, it is not very cozy and comes perilously close to the serial killer story I usually avoid. It is suspenseful and the porch gets painted.

    This series is very similar to Diane Mott Davidson's Goldy Schultz series as the cover blurb said, without the recipes. She's got the troubled son, devoted second husband, and interesting way to spend the time. Except Eastport is a real place and Sarah Graves lives there. I've been there and it is charming but you will get little local color from Sarah Graves. The thin atmosphere and flat characterizations along with the regular appearances of some very ugly
    criminals in pretty Eastport are some of the reasons I don't totally love this series. I do like the home repair tips just wish more went into telling us about the people and the town and the real life of Eastport.

    As I said the plot is taut and full twists and turns and this will probably get snapped right up by fans of the series.

    Saturday, June 4, 2011

    Original Sin

    Beth McMullen
    Beth McMullen's website with a link to the first chapter of the book

    A tongue in cheek spy thriller combined with day to day stay at home mom adventures, this novel is extremely enjoyable and unusual, quite different than most of the crime novels on this blog.

    The main character Lucy is a stay-at-home mom to adorable but demanding toddler Theo and married to a devoted but clueless environmentalist. In a former life, she was super spy Sally Sin. She had worked for the improbably named USWMD (US Weapons of Mass Destruction) agency, where her bosses were ungrateful and irascible. The fun parts include her daily get togethers with a group of moms and grandpas who are not altogether what they seem. The contemporary story of her life as a mom is told interspersed with flashbacks from her old spy days in all kinds of exotic locales.

    During her spy days she had repeated run ins with turncoat James Bond like super spy, Ian Blackford, whose name seems like an homage to the William F. Buckley spy Blackford Oaks. Lucy must fend off the murderous attacks of the Blind Monk and Blackford in time to pick up Theo from preschool and make dinner for hubby. She is happy with her simple present life but has never told her husband about her former life and that tension - will he find out? - makes for some believable suspense.

    Although the spy plot and setup seems extremely improbable, McMullen delights with Lucy/Sally's dry monologues, the well-written and funny depictions of the life of a devoted mom, the fun characters - I especially liked the child Theo-, and fairly witty dialogue.

    This story is written as the first of a series. I highly recommend this first one as a delightful beach or bedtime read. My only complaint is the names of the agency and characters are little too silly and I wish she'd chosen a name other than Sally Sin for her character's nomme de guerre, but a minor quibble about a well-written and fun debut.

    Monday, May 30, 2011

    Evidence of Murder

    Evidence of Murder
    Lisa Black
    Kirkus 2008

    Really, really good!
    More to come...

    Occult mystery series -- this time tarot

    Hanged Man
    David Skibbens
    St. Martin's Minotaur
    ISBN: 0312377835
    Publication Date: Apr 2008

    A few weeks ago I read Murder in the 11th House by Mitchell Lewis and mentioned its similarities, in some ways to Skibbens' tarot series. In fact, I felt the need to revisit the Skibbens series. Both have mysteriously good looking, babe magnet middle aged occult operators who rely on their thinning charms, with complicated lives, families, and plenty of midlife crisis toys. There the similarities end.

    Lewis' protagonist is a kind of fantasy, a barely disguised autobiographical astrologer who can tell you anything from a detailed chart and drives a fantasy, climate and scenery changing limo. Skibbens' guy is clearly fictional. He's a former Weather Underground fugitive hiding out in the persona of the tarot card reader, whose readings sometimes seem all too real. Long story short, while both are pretty fun reads, I think Skibbens writing is more interesting, his characters and dialogue better drawn and more amusing, and his background (Bay ares vs. Lewis' NYC) better drawn. And he drives a cool motorcycle.

    Hanged Man, fourth in the Warren Ritter tarot series, features a tour of the SMBD (do I have to spell it out?) underworld, both creepy and kind of compelling. Personally I'll stick with the "vanilla" as one character describes the non-SMBD encounter but it makes for an interesting backdrop.

    The first, Eight of Swords was very, very good. This one is still very readable but the plot a little thin, the characters could use a little more something, and I'd like to hear more about Weather. It is a kind of cozy despite the noiresque backdrop where everyone
    (including the guy's shrink, girlfriend and all known relatives) gather for dinner and a few laughs as in any TV detective drama, a little silly.

    Sunday, May 15, 2011

    Snow Angels -- DNF

    DNF= Did Not Finish (no pun intended)


    Started reading Snow Angels (2010- now in paperback) by James Thompson, a new series featuring Finnish detective Kari Vaara. This novel is set at Christmas in Lapland, a time of crushing cold and darkness that I've only read about in the Snow Queen fairy tales. The story is well-written but the crime is so gruesome and horrific I'm sorry I read long enough to read its description. And the well-drawn setting so claustrophobic I couldn't read any more of it.

    This is one time I'm glad not to be a professional reviewer.

    Saturday, May 14, 2011

    A Trace of Smoke

    A Trace of Smoke
    Rebecca Cantrell

    Another story about a woman reporter in the early twentieth century but they could not be more different. Think Cabaret, think Christopher Isherwood, this story of murder and the rise of Nazis combined with gay clubs, "boot girls" or prostitutes catering to a rough trade, drugs, lost people, hunger, money worth nothing. This is the world of Weimar Berlin in 1931 at the brink of the Nazi takeover of Germany. Ernst Rohm, the gay leader of the Sturm Abteilung (the SA or brownshirts) shows up as a character.

    The main character, Hannah, is barely surviving and is at the edge of desperation as she bravely tries to help Jewish friends to America while trying to protect her beautiful gay performer brother. The atmosphere of this novel is near perfect, the exhilarating yet terrifying days in Berlin come alive in this tale. Not for the faint hearted.

    Poison Pen # 2-- Escape Artist

    Ed Ifkovic
    Edna as a young reporter in Wisconsen
    Escape Artist
    Forthcoming, June 2011
    Poison Pen

    A prequel to an earlier novel, Lone Star, that also featured novelist Edna Ferber as a detective (Appleton Library's Info. about Edna), this tale is set in early 20th century Appleton, Wisconsen where Edna (Ed) began her career as a "girl" reporter in a time when women did not usually work. The 19-year-old daughter of Jewish Hungarian immigrant storekeepers, her beat is lady's luncheons, teas, and the best fabrics to use for a shirtwaist. But her natural curiosity and verve lead her into trouble, first interviewing Houdini, then to investigate the murder of former classmate. Appleton is also the former home of Harry Houdini, who is home for a performance and provides Edna with a lot of good advice and a solution to the locked door murder mystery. Edna really did interview Houdini in 1924: Interview and Appleton apparently has a museum to both Ferber and Houdini.

    This novel is by turns sweet, sad, and funny. The characters both real and fictional are fresh and true, the early twentieth century setting of Appleton is nicely presented and the plot is twisted and convoluted, maybe goes on a bit too long. I knew nothing about Edna Ferber before but her presentation here as the feisty but not pretty girl reporter is fun. It has a serious side, exploring such things as child and spousal abuse, her father's illness, sibling rivalry, the role of women, and anti-semitism, while following a sad murder of a local girl. The writing is not preachy though and seems to offer insights to this time so close yet so remote from us. I really enjoyed this novel.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011

    New titles from Poison Pen # 1

    Murder in the 11th House
    Mitchell Scott Lewis
    In stores Sept. 2011 (netgalley)

    This amusing and fast paced "unusual detective" story is the first entry in the David Lowell "Starlight Detective Agency" series. Apparently Lewis is a famous astrologer, "astro-economist," and author of newsletters "Living by Starlight," or "Trading by Starlight" who predicted the Wall Street meltdown, but I have to say that I had never heard of him or his predictions. Personally, I don't believe in astrology at all but the detailed discussions of personal charts, houses, ascending planets and the rest added an air of verisimilitude to the story. There seems to have been some note of autobiography in the story. Well, write what you know,right?

    It is set in NYC and has some nice notes of realism - traffic, cabs, restaurants, trips to Rikers - and an interesting although farfetched plot about a thwarted conspiracy to get a conservative judge elected president. One off note for me was how women were terribly attracted to this guy. He is rich but I think Lewis was getting a little carried away with the wonders of his alter-ego. Also he goes on a Jane Austin style "just a novel!" rant about the incredible track record of astrology and the idiocy of the non-believers. His grasp of police procedure and the justice system seemed a little spotty in these CSI days.

    This series reminded me a little of the well written and much less polemical David Skibbens Weather Underground/tarot card reader detective series. And Skibbens is not trying to convince the reader that tarot is real.

    Despite these caveats, it was a fun read, briskly paced, with unusual and well-developed
    characters, fun futuristic elements, and not bad dialogue. I enjoyed it and will look for the next one.

    Monday, May 2, 2011


    Where Shadows Dance
    C. S. Harris
    NAL Hardcover

    ISBN # 978-0451232236
    List Price: $24.95

    Love this series about a Regency lord who hunts murderers and the impressive period detail that C.S. Harris/ aka Candice Proctor brings to what could be a rather ordinary Regency mystery/romance. It has many of the trappings but Harris is always after something new.

    I've yet to  ready any fiction that captures the feeling of the period the way the incredible and well researched biography Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman does. I mean the book, not the weak and inaccurate Keira Knightly vehicle. The duchess was a leading female politician, the Hilary Clinton of her day, who still  had many of the vices of her time like constant gambling, heavy debt,  and numerous affairs but she was still incredibly influential on the Whig politics of the day. A lot of Regency novels, (the immortal Jane Austen's among them), do not touch on the reality of the complex Regency Period wars and politics but Harris does, at least somewhat. As novels of the Regency period, Harris' St. Cyr mysteries are well done and richly imagined. Candice Proctor is a scholar of the French Revolution (as well as the author of several  other genre novels) and it shows in the level of detail and the research.

    In the latest, Sebastian (Viscount St. Cyr) has to help anatomist Paul Gibson hunt for a murderer when it is illegal to even have obtained the body in the first place. At the same time, he has to get Hero Jarvis, his reluctant bride, to the altar. So it is in part police procedural, part Regency romance, and part historical fiction about the dark days of the Regency,  the Napoleonic wars, and the intrigue and treachery of those times. I must say I like Hero as a character much better than his old flame Kat Boleyn; Hero is much more a modern woman and pretty tough as well. Enjoyable from start to finish.
    London circa 1800

    Thursday, April 28, 2011

    Vienna Twilight

    Vienna Twilight
    Frank Tallis
    Random House,  $15.00
    ISBN 9780812981001

    The Frank Tallis Vienna/Dr. Max Lieberman psychological crime novel series are wonderful and magical - and almost fairy tale like in their sensuous pleasures and depraved and disturbing horrors. In a way they are more about the backstory than the mystery. I think it would not be out of place to suggest Tallis is using the psychological nature of the crimes as a metaphor for the rise of something dark and evil in the subconscious of early twentieth century Vienna. The crimes, often brutal murders of the innocent, offend against all sensibilities. These horrors are juxtaposed against the rise of psychoanalysis and the triumph of the intellect.

    At the same time, almost the same mouthful, are the luscious delights of the cafes and concert halls where the Viennese gather to enjoy authentic sounding chocolate cream or apricot jam filled confections and rich and exotic coffee drinks along with transporting music of Strauss, Mozart, Bach, and Viennese musicians of all types. There was so much music in the air that laws were passed to outlaw music making after 11 pm.

    Cafe Central in Vienna

    Another view of Cafe Central
     I must confess part of my own family was part of the life of early twentieth century Jewish Vienna. And when I was young my great aunts told me stories about the charm and glamour of their native city. We were related to nobility and went to balls and parties, they told me. Yet despite the beauty and wonder, they and their sister, my great grandmother Anna, left before World War I, to come to the U.S. And I'm profoundly grateful that they did! Or I might not be here at all. Our relatives who left Vienna in the 30s barely escaped with their lives. This series helps me to understand the ambiguity of the pre-WWI era for Jews and for others filling the city like Russians, Slavs, and gypsies.But Vienna is incredibly beautiful as you can see from some of these pictures and I hope to visit one day.

    The latest, Vienna Twilight, does not disappoint. The murders are indeed gruesome and the motive psychologically obscure and dark. Clothes and couture, the lives of poor laundresses, musicians, and whores, and aspects of the dark underpinnings of Viennese society are explored. It seems well-researched and authentic and there is great deal of rich detail. One pleasure is how the odd relationship between Max and the English medical student Amelia Lydgate continues to evolve and it is both amusing and touching. But Tallis is not rushing into anything; it seems clear he has more ground to cover with these characters and this series.

    Natural History Museum in Vienna

    I am looking forward to the next one.

    Saturday, April 23, 2011

    Agatha Christie

    I recently bought an IPad, in part as an e-reader. My local library has a limited supply of e-books and I began to re-read some of the hoary Agatha Christies I read years ago to try it out. The IPad is a great tool for reading and for updating this blog - although I have trouble adding pix and will have to learn more about that. As I mentioned in my first blog in January 2010, http://hitormystery.blogspot.com/2010/01/classics.html, Agatha Christie's A Mirror Cracked... was the first adult mystery novel I ever read (I did read Nancy Drew with my  pals), in the 1970s at age 12 or 13. I found them soothing and a balm to the day's troubles.

    Old fashioned reads  for a young girl, but I read them all. And loved them. Having read a lot more over the years, I get their shortcomings but they still are incredibly charming. And sometimes Agatha had a thing or two going on in her head.  I read Bertram's Hotel and While the Light Lasts, a neat collection of her short stories. I will re-read a bunch more especially some of my favorites: Man in a Brown Suit, Murder In Mesopotamia, Toward Zero, Death on the Blue TrainPassenger to Frankfurt, Death Comes as the End, the Tommy and Tuppence stories, and many other old friends. They are still a sweet read.

    Thursday, April 21, 2011

    Mad, bad, and...

    ...Dangerous to Know. Lady Caroline Lamb's famous characterization of Lord Byron has been used a number of times for previous novels and movies like the classic potboiler depicted to the left, a recent novel by Barbara Taylor Bradford, quotes about various people, an album by Hillary Duff, a memorable song in an episode of Angelina Ballerina, biographies of Byron, and so on.... I really foresee Byron will be reborn as a detective soon if he hasn't been already. He did figure large in a recent Stephanie Barron- Jane Austin novel.

    Anyway... that is the title of the latest Tasha Alexander http://www.tashaalexander.com/index.html Lady Emily mystery. I loved this series when it started. Alexander is doing something wonderful and fresh with this series in dealing with the mores and lives of Victorian woman intellectuals or those who crave the intellectual life. The first few:  Only to Deceive, A Poisoned Season were brilliant and wonderfully exciting in a lot of ways but I didn't much care for the last one,Tears of Pearl, as I detailed in a previous blog:
    But I had high hopes for this one.

    I did like it, mostly, but did think that it dragged. And once again was light on charm. Emily is again divorced from her English society milieu and friends like Ivy, even her judgmental mother. A bunch of stuff didn't make much sense and Emily does seem both whiny and self-righteous. Her husband Colin keeps saying she's brilliant, which is good, since that's the only way you'd know. That's before he cracks down and doesn't want her to do anything. And his mother, an imperious suffragette shows up and hates Emily. Nobody is very understanding of poor post-Pearl injured Emily and it seemed to take a long time to slog through it all.

    One annoying things is the frequent use of the word "beyond" - as in "beyond terrifying," "beyond boring," and so on. It's set in France but little seems French or like France. I guess they all speak so fluently that there is no problem with going back and forth between languages without any acknowledgment. Monet shows up as character to move along the plot but he and his wife don't really come alive as characters not does their famous garden get much attention. Sebastian the thief (the apparant inspiration for Arsene Lupin) and Cecile are a bit amusing but their devotion to Emily seems unwarranted - even strained. The food sounds good (a pear wrapped in pastry sounds really divine) but the setting really lacks the feeling, flavor, and sense of being in France in the late nineteenth century or any other time.

    Monet's house in Giverny that Emily visits

    I was glad to finally finish it - it seemed take forever but I have to admit the unraveling of whodunit was clever and I never guessed who - at least partly 'cause I didn't care!

    It's hard to keep a series fresh and Tasha Alexander is doing a good job of scouting out new locations and there are hints of gender politics and maybe domestic trials to come. I'm sure to read the next one.

    Sunday, April 17, 2011

    Girl in a Green Raincoat

    I read Girl... as a galley from the publisher downloaded to my new IPad. There is something insubstantial about an ebook. No weight or heft or smell of the pages. No sense of closure when you close the book - and no trip back to the library or space to find on our crowded book shelves! As a devotee of books and libraries full of books I wasn't sure how I would feel about ebooks but reading on the iPad is a very pleasant experience. I still have regular books to read including the latest Tasha Alexander but the iPad is cool for reading in bed with the lights out, when the power goes out, traveling, spur of the moment reads, and for updating this blog. 

    Girl, originally serialized in the New York Times, is a really enjoyable read. I usually enjoy Laura Lippman's moody but amusing books: http://www.lauralippman.com/

    In this one, the redoubtable Tess Monaghan is on bed rest while pregnant. And I don't have to tell you what a bad patient she is. It has a Rear Window, Nero Wolfe, or Lincoln Rhyme kind of feeling -the shut in who sits and thinks (while longing for the weekly shower) and people come to her. The title character, the "girl" is, of course, not at all the person she seems to be or that Tess' fevered cogitation conjures. Crow and Whitney are along but no appearance by gorgeous Aunt Kitty or Uncle Spike or other eccentric friends we've come to appreciate. The plot was fun and moved along, the dialogue pretty snappy - I especially enjoyed the scene when Whitney was purse shopping - and Tess and Crow have a baby in the end. Fun book and I'm glad to have a new way to read. I'm on board for the next Laura Lippmann as Tess and Crow have all the fun of a new baby.

    "Where Tess rows", according to Laura Lippman's blog: www.lauralippman.com

    Thursday, April 14, 2011

    Discovery of witches

    Witches and vampires and daemons, oh my!

    I will freely admit to just not feeling it when it comes to the undead. After Buffy is there really anything left to say?

    That said, I thought Deborah Harkness' Discovery of Witches started off really well with mysterious books in the Bodleian, atmosphere of Oxford, spooky, medieval, and delightfully musty. I could practically smell the old leather bindings. The first few chapters are great, appealing heroine Diana Bishop- a hereditary witch descended from Salem witches but with attitude, who is trying not to use magic (well it's true she seems a bit smug), a mysterious, spooky back story, cool old manuscript with magical properties, gathering gloom. The atmosphere is pretty nice. Then in my opinion it goes all to hell.

    A 1500 year old vampire shows up And the story starts to become so ridiculous I had to stop reading. I don't know if it was the idiot arty "daemons," Diana's irresponsibility for all supernatural creatures (and Oxford is lousy with them -who knew?), the vampire-witch yoga class (yes really!), or the way that ancient vampires can get tenure, academic funding,  and be scientists "since scientists work alone" -(they do? No they don't!) Or that he can still look 30 after a career that spans about 40 years and no one notices. I left before the love story really got going. Frankly I don't get the appeal of the vampire as a love interest ... Just imagine his breath! but that's just me. I've read it gets better as you go along but I'm afraid this one lost me. I'm too ready for the vamp craze to end.