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, 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.

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 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