Monday, November 26, 2018

What Child Is This, A Short Story, by Rhys Bowen

Rhys Bowen is a magnificent story teller with an ability to keep a reader’s attention until she is ready to let them go. In this novella, she tells the story of Eastenders Jack and Maggie who have lost their only child, a little girl, to diphtheria. Their sad Christmas during the Blitz is without most of the holiday foods they had before the war. When their house is bombed, they have nowhere to go, so they go to the wealthy West End, believing they would be safe there. There they find an abandoned little boy, living all alone in a grand house. As the story unfolds, need, hope and good cheer give the three of them, and others they befriend along the way, an unlikely Christmas miracle.

  • Publisher: Amazon Original Stories (November 6, 2018)
  • Print Length: 49 pages
  • Publication Date: November 6, 2018
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

The Late Show, by Michael Connelly

No writer captures angst and mystery as well as Michael Connelly. In this new series, Connelly introduces a new protagonist, Detective Renee Ballard. Like Harry Bosch, the key figure in dozens of Connelly’s previous novels, Ballard is a closed book that we get to understand only a tiny bit at a time.

An LAPD detective, expelled from the elite Robbery Homicide Division (RHD) after filing a sexual harassment complaint against her supervisory lieutenant, Ballard is now on the late shift in the Hollywood Division, called “The Late Show.” Through Ballard, Connelly ably depicts the misogyny of the old boys club mentality that still exists in the LAPD, without creating melodram

We learn that Ballard is homeless except for the two days a month she lives with her Hawaiian grandmother, Tutu, 90 miles away. The other days she sleeps at a local hotel, or in a tent on the beach after paddle boarding. The only being she lets near her heart, besides Tutu, is her dog Lola, who spends most of her nights at a dog care facility.

When a Trans woman is brutally attacked, Ballard is the only detective who cares enough to investigate, ultimately bringing the attacker to justice while almost losing her own life. Similarly, after Ballard’s former RHD partner is murdered while investigating a shocking six person massacre at a local club, Ballard is the only detective able to unravel the corruption that leads back to the LAPD.

This is a great read that I was not able to put down until the end. Five stars.

(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)
Little, Brown and Company
Copyright © 2017 by Hieronymus, Inc.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Malice in Maggody, by Joan Hess

Before Stephanie Plum there was Arly Hanks, chief of police in the town of Maggody, Arkansas, population 755. Licking her wounds from a divorce and loss of her marital New York City penthouse, Hanks has returned to her roots, where her mother Ruby Bee owns the local diner and motel, and where everybody in town has a story so strange only Joan Hess can tell it in this reprint of her 1987 novel.

At 34, Hanks spends her days carving a duck from a block of wood and dealing with a police force of two, one of which is desperate to join the state police. When the town council and Mayor Jim Bob kidnap an EPA bureaucrat to stop a new law that will pollute the town’s creek, Hanks is the last to know, even when it turns out her mother is part of the operation. As Hanks digs deeper into the kidnapping, and an associated tragic murder, we meet some of the most interesting and nutty characters ever to step out of a novel, with nary a computer, tablet or cellphone in sight.

Sometimes a trip to Maggody, where like a Sue Grafton novel, the 21st Century is still years in the future, is necessary in order to understand that in our recent past, friendship and family, even laced with outrageous backwoods eccentricity, were more important than anything else. An importance Chief Hanks (and Joan Hess) is not afraid to acknowledge.

(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)

Mischief in Maggody, by Joan Hess

In her second Arly Hanks mystery, Joan Hess introduces us to the seamier underbelly of Maggody, Arkansas, population 755. After mountain woman/part-time hooker/bootlegger, Robin Buchanon disappears, her four older kids are taken in by the Mayor’s wife (known as “Mizzoner”) and her baby is taken in by Arly’s mother, Ruby Bee. Of course, since none of the children know how to read, or keep clean, or how to live in any dwelling built after 1900 in a place not in the middle of an unpopulated mountain, (Dogpatch from the L’il Abner comics is modern compared to their cabin), their antics cause Mizzoner to have a nervous breakdown while the men of Maggody worry that they may be exposed as one of kids’ “pappys.”

After Hanks finds Robin’s body alongside a booby-trapped marijuana patch, she sets out to find the murderers. Meanwhile, her not-all-there police department janitor, declares himself a “deputy,” steals the sheriff’s jeep and disappears into the mountains with his not-all-there girlfriend, claiming he will solve the mystery. Not to be outdone in the outrageous acts department, Ruby Bee manages to lose the baby; the new-in-town psychic, Madame Celeste, manages to create hysteria with her predictions; and a bunch of hippies, also new-in-town, generate their own brand of chaos by meditating in the nude.

Entering the world of Arly Hanks is always a treat, and it’s comforting to know there are at least fourteen more novels in the series. Thank you Joan Hess!

(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The English Wife by Lauren Willig

Illegitimate children, wealthy British sons and cousins, snobby New Yorkers who consider the Vanderbilts the tainted nouveau riche, unsolved murders, “The English Wife” has it all, including the growing friendship between a wealthy daughter and a poor journalist who has pulled himself up from a childhood on the streets. Slightly gothic, the novel unrolls fascinating plots within plots within plots, and it definitely does not allow any reader to walk away bored. I enjoyed this complicated book, and I want to know more about those characters left standing at the end.

(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Afterlife, by Marcus Sakey

I enjoyed this book. Author Marcus Sakey has a wonderful ability to create new worlds within worlds. A sniper has killed 17 innocent, unconnected people in Chicago. FBI agent Will Brody has the sniper’s DNA, but little else, and is tracking him using skills honed in his military service in Afghanistan. Sent by his boss, and lover, Claire McCoy, to investigate an anonymous tip about an abandoned church, Brody dies when an improvised explosive device blows up. Despite his gruesome death, he awakens in a grey Chicago with no life and no warmth. He is in an afterlife called the Echo because it mirrors life, but like an echo, it fades over time.

Joined by a large group of new friends who have fought for years against seductive evil tendencies in the Echo, Brody uncovers dangerous dark secrets that mankind has not even guessed at. Forced to fight this evil while protecting Claire McCoy, Brody must travel through darker and darker worlds, worlds that echo the despair of Dante’s Inferno.

Although most of the novel is well written with richly developed characters and plot lines, several parts of the book seemed to be hastily put together. Notwithstanding, this is a superb book and I highly recommend it.

* Print Length: 320 pages
* Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (July 18, 2017)
* Publication Date: July 18, 2017
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Happy Birthday Harold Pinter

When I was 20 years old, I worked for a season as an assistant director at the Soho Poly Theatre in London (now called the Soho Theatre). For its time, it was a cutting edge fringe theatre, made even more vivid and relevant by Verity Bargate, one of its founders. Nobel Prize winner, Harold Pinter was one of the playwrights who, at Verity’s invitation, tried out his new material in her little stuffy but charming basement theatre.

I assisted directors, primarily the magnificent Donald Sumpter (yes, Maester Luwin in the Game of Thrones). I also, on occasion, served Verity’s liver pate in the tiny cafe, and I helped with props and sound effects. (My mother remembers visiting me at the theatre on the day I had to cry like a baby off stage.) I proudly earned enough money to pay the weekly rent for my room.

I remember Harold Pinter as a blur of energy with large eyeglasses, and as someone who never spoke unimportant words. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2008. I wish I had known him better, but I doubt he would have wanted to know me better. I was a very naive 20 year old. I am honored, however, to have worked with this great playwright so, so many years ago.

Happy Birthday Mr. Pinter!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Come Sundown, by Nora Roberts

For grittiness, Nora Roberts gives Patricia Cornwell a run for her money in this novel. The brutal kidnapping of a young woman in 1991, and the horrible abuse she was subjected to for 25 years, are the book’s undercurrents. Juxtaposed to the wealth and love her estranged family enjoys during these years, her life seems even more brutal. The characters of family, victims, and victimizers, leap to life, as they do in every Roberts’ story. I could not put this book down.

Print Length: 477 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1250123070
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (May 30, 2017)
Publication Date: May 30, 2017
Sold by: Macmillan

Monday, September 25, 2017

The White Feather Murders (Herringford and Watts Mysteries Book 3), By Rachel McMillan

If you love historical fiction, and mysteries where you cannot guess the murderer, you will enjoy Rachel McMillan's Herringford and Watts Mystery series. In this third novel in the series, it is 1914 and Toronto is anxiously waiting to hear whether the British Empire is going to war with Germany. In this tense environment, which gets more tense after war is declared, female detectives Merinda Herringford and Jemima Watts (Mrs. DeLucca) must find out who is terrorizing German immigrants and leaving white feathers at the murder scenes of seemingly unconnected individuals.

Neither of McMillan's detectives fits the mold of an early 20th century female. Jemima, married with a baby son, agonizes over her duties to her family, and her commitment to her detective agency and to her friend Miranda. Miranda furiously rejects marriage because she does not want to lose her independence. At the same time, however, she is strongly conflicted on the subject. In many ways, these conflicts are reminiscent of the roiling internal battles fought by Dorothy Sayers' 1930s' character Harriet Vane in her relationship with Lord Peter Wimsey. McMillan makes the battles just as believable.

McMillan does an excellent job of bringing 1914 Toronto to life as a multilayered budding metropolis, home to wealthy elites, a growing middle class, and a refuge for immigrants fleeing the tyranny and poverty of the old world. My only concern with the novel is its sense of finality. I hope it is not the last book in the Herringford and Watts Mystery series because I want to know what happens to McMillan's well-crafted protagonists as the trenches and fires of World War I change everything.

* Print Length: 236 pages
* Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (April 25, 2017)
* Publication Date: April 11, 2017
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC