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.