Thursday, September 25, 2014

Last Scene Alive

This is #7 in the Aurora Teagarden series by Charlaine Harris. Aurora is still sunk in the gray landscape of loss from the death of her husband Martin (see previous post for A Fool and His Honey). Apparently, her former writer friend, Robin Crusoe, has optioned one of his books--loosely based on a series of murders that occurred in Lawrenceton, which Aurora helped the police to solve. As a result, a film company is coming to town and some "B" level starlet--who may or may not still be involved with Robin--is going to play the Aurora-based character in the movie. Aurora does not want to have anything to do with it, and struggles not to take it personally when friends in town get involved in and excited about the the making of the movie. Of course, the actress playing Aurora gets murdered, and Aurora will have to find the killer or risk suffering the same fate. On the bright side, the flame seems to have been rekindled with Robin and Aurora begins to see a light at the end of her dark tunnel of mourning. Well done, fast-paced read.

A Fool and His Honey

This is book #6 in the "Aurora Teagarden" series by Charlaine Harris. I have not read these in order but found a couple of them in the "Friends" shop at the public library and I have really enjoyed her other series with Lily Bard and Sookie Stackhouse. In this book, Aurora is married to Martin, and although she no longer needs to work, she is back to being a part-time librarian at the public library in the the Atlanta bedroom community of Lawrenceton. One afternoon she answers the front door and is met by Martin's niece, Regina, carrying her new baby, Hayden. Aurora and Martin have a dinner engagement that evening and when they return, they find, Regina missing and her husband, Craig, lying dead on the stairs leading to the garage apartment. The baby is found safely hidden under the bed in the apartment. Inside, they find a groggy Rory,  Craig's best friend, sleeping behind the sofa in the den. Unable to reach Regina's mother (Martin's sister, Barby), who is on a cruise, and determined to get the baby with someone who can take care of him, they head to Ohio to find Craig's adoptive parents. When that doesn't work out, they decide to stay a few days at Martin's family farm, where he had been letting Regina and Craig--and apparently, Rory--live. But the person who killed Craig, and perhaps kidnapped Regina, is so desperate to find the baby, that more people will die. As with all Harris' characters and books, no one is free of dark character flaws, nor are the endings always happy. Still, she is a good writer, the plots are tight, the characters and sense of place are well-developed. No regrets at reading this one.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

King of the Mountain

I only know M.K. Wren from reading her post-apocalyptic novel, A Gift Upon the Shore, so was surprised to find that she has a whole series of mysteries with a PI protagonist named Conan Flagg. Flagg also owns a bookstore on the coast of Oregon, and he is loathe to leave it just now, but his friend, Lise King, has pleaded with him to join her family for her father's annual birthday get together at his lodge in the mountains east of Portland. The trip brings together wealthy timber man A.C.King, his relatively new and much younger wife, and his 3 sons, at least two of whom appear to have some significant conflicts with A.C. Part of the annual celebration involves A.C. and his sons hiking up the mountain to camp out overnight.  One son is staying behind at the lodge, ostensibly with an injured ankle. Conan is invited to join the camp out, and it is only A.C.'s snoring which wakes Conan and sends him wandering out of camp to look at the stars, minutes before a landslide buries the campsite and--presumably--A.C. and two of his sons.  Conan races down the mountain as a freak blizzard moves in and barely survives hypothermia in getting back to the lodge to deliver the sad news. Conan is sure he heard a separate explosion moments before the landslide started and he thinks this is an elaborately plotted murder, not an accident of nature. That means somebody at the lodge is involved, and Conan means to find out who. Everyone has a motive--most of them centered around money. If you enjoy reading books set in the Pacific Northwest and like a decently wrought mystery, this would be an enjoyable choice.

Lucky You

I have not read anything by Carl Hiaasen in a while and forgot how he makes me laugh out loud with his outrageous characters and dialogue. Bode and Chub, two ne'er do wells--also would-be anti-government militia--win the Florida lottery. The only thing is, someone else did, too, and that means they only get $14 m instead of $28 m. They decide to find the other winner and steal the ticket. They accomplish their goal, beating up a proud young black woman, JoLayne Lucks, who works as a veterinary assistant and had wanted to use her winnings to save a piece of land that is soon to be bulldozed by developers. She loves the land and the animals that live there; this is along the same lines as many of Hiaasen's other books with semi-environmental activist themes. Tom Krome, a jaded newspaper reporter sent to cover JoLayne's winning the lottery by his incompetent and idiotic editor, finds himself in the middle of JoLayne's quest to find the two brutal sociopaths and get her ticket back. When Krome goes off the grid, and his house gets blown up with somebody's body inside, the newspaper sends the features editor to check up on Krome. Said editor has a religious conversion, after an encounter with tiny turtles in the town of Grange, a place known for religious miracles and the shysters who create them. Other characters include Krome's actress wife who refuses to divorce him, the waitress from Hooters with whom Chub falls in love, the convenience store clerk who sold JoLayne the winning ticket and then denied it in order to join Chub and Bode in the militia, and the various eccentrics living in the town of Grange. Hiaasen's humor is dark, but the good guys win in the end and this is a hilarious read.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Summons to Memphis

Written by Peter Taylor in 1986, and awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1987, this is, according to the critics, a quintessentially Southern novel. Like his main character, Phillip Carver, Taylor was born in Nashville, and later lived in Memphis, where his father practiced law; and, like Carver, Taylor attended Vanderbilt, at least for a time. In the novel, Philip is "summoned" home to Memphis by his domineering older sisters to help prevent the marriage of their octogenarian father after the death of their mother. Phillip lives with a younger woman in Manhattan, working as a book editor and rare book dealer-- having escaped the cloistered environment of Memphis with financial help from these same sisters after the second World War. His older brother had been killed in the war. The senior Carver had moved the family from Nashville to Memphis following the financial scandals surrounding a large insurance and finance conglomerate owned by his then best friend and boss, Lewis Shackleford. Phillip was then just a teenager, and his older sisters were in their late teens, with their brother in between. The entire family felt betrayed by their father's decision to move, with Mrs.Carver comparing it to the Cherokee "Trail of Tears." She had come from a moneyed family in Nashville and "married down" somewhat to George Carver, although he came from a family with land and was an aspiring lawyer. Mrs. Carver at first engaged with abandon in the new social scene of Memphis but then retreated into pseudo-invalidism for the rest of her life. Mr. George Carver,however, wasn't through messing up their lives. First he managed to put a stop to Betsy's engagement to a promising young Nashville suitor. Then during WWII, he also bought off the woman that Phillip loved.  Neither of the older sisters ever married and Phillip's older brother was killed in the war. In this book, what becomes increasingly clear to Phillip during the course of the novel is just how manipulative his entire family has become, with revenge apparently the end goal of both the sisters if not also the father. What he does not seem to openly acknowledge is his retreat, not so much geographically, but emotionally from these large dramatic characters of his family into a small and monochromatic life. He calls it serenity.  Perhaps. A much more scholarly review of the book is available from the NYTimes.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Something More Than Night

I must have seen this book reviewed on Powell's book blog because I am unfamiliar with author Ian Tregillis, although he written other books. Everything gets turned on its head in his version of the world. The premise is that there is a coup brewing in the celestial realms; the archangel Gabriel has been murdered, though it's not clear why until the very end. Heaven is not the realm of peace and harmony we stereotypically believe it to be, and the various levels of creatures who reside there are imprisoned in a sense and not at all happy about it. When earthly Bayliss is tapped to find a compliant human replacement to fill Gabriel's spot in the Choir, he accidentally kills the wrong person--a dame instead of the mugg he had targeted. Did I mention that Bayliss fashions himself after Philip Marlowe? You only think you know what is going on in this book, because Tregillis leads us all astray. Bayliss is not who he claims to be, i.e., just a low level angel who has to bend to more powerful forces, but who, like Marlowe, has a code of honor requiring him to protect the dame in distress from those same dark and very dangerous and very weird beings. Molly, said dame, is also quite a bit more than your ordinary "monkey"--er, I mean human. The celestials have a decidedly low opinion of earth's two legged occupants.  Tregillis writes with flair and color and will leave you gasping for breath trying to keep up. This was a totally entertaining and surprising read from start to finish and I will definitely look for more of his books.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Arsenic Labyrinth

Third installment in Martin Edwards' "Lake District" mystery series, this one is set in the former mining district of Coniston. See earlier posts of The Coffin Trail and The Cipher Garden for a more detailed cast of regular characters and previous cases. This time the re-opening of a case by Hannah Scarlett's team is prompted by a story in the local papers about the 10th anniversary of a disappearance. No one has seen or heard from Emma Bestwick for 10 years and journalist Tony DiVenuto is playing the story for all it's worth. Apparently, he has struck a chord because he receives an anonymous call saying that Emma won't ever be heard from again. The call came from con man GuyKoenig, who has returned to the Lake District after a 10 year absence--an absence which coincided with the disappearance of Emma. He in fact didn't mean to kill Emma, but ultimately did. Why Emma agreed to meet him in an out-of-the-way spot on the fells near the ruins of an arsenic mine drives this mystery. Daniel gets involved because he is researching for a possible new book on John Ruskin, who lived out his final years in Coniston, and was known for his antagonism toward industrial development. Once again, a complex plot with lots of twists and turns. Several side stories are developed as well as the main plot lines. Not too surprisingly, Miranda decides to move back to London, and Hannah and Marc's relationship continues to be full of discontents on both sides. Frankly the possible relationship between Hannah and Daniel just fails to arouse my interest. There are several more books in this series, but I don't feel compelled to read any more of them at this point...maybe after we have returned from our trip there.