Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Reversal

This book continues the development of the relationship between half-brothers Michael Haller, well-know defense attorney (aka The Lincoln Lawyer) in the LA area, and Harry (Hieronymous) Bosch, veteran homicide detective for the LAPD. Both of these characters have their own series by Michael Connelly. Mickey has been solicited by the DA's office to take on the job of special prosecutor for the re-trial of Jason Jessup, who has spent 24 years in prison for the murder of a 12-year old girl in 1986. His conviction has been overturned on the basis of new DNA evidence, although the DA is still convinced the other evidence in the original investigation stands. Mickey hesitates to "cross the line" from defense to prosecution, but extracts a high price; if he wins in court, the DA will move Mickey's ex-wife Maggie from the backwater Van Nuys office to the main office. Also, she is to be Mickey's 2nd chair on the case, and he gets to choose his own investigator, enter Harry Bosch. Maggie is an experienced and highly successful prosecution attorney with the DA's office, Harry is one of the most seasoned and intuitive homicide detectives on the force, and Mickey knows all the moves a good defense attorney can make--so they form an impressive team. But it is no small feat to prosecute someone for a 25-year-old crime and they are up against one of the best defense attorneys in town. Jessup has energized a whole host of supporters from his cell, and so Mickey makes the strategic decision to ask for no bail;  Jessup is released on his own recognizance--and the police and prosecution can only hope he will screw up and that the LAPD surveillance team will catch him in the act. The plot moves briskly along and Connelly does a good job of keeping all the balls in the air for the various characters. Well worth the read if you are fan of either series. I have previous posts on The Lincoln Lawyer, The Gods of Guilt, The Brass Verdict.

The Monk Downstairs

Life is messy and being a monk, for some, is a retreat from that messiness. For others, it is stepping right into the middle of things and acting out one's faith. This somewhat characterizes the conflict between Michael Christopher--formerly Brother Jerome-- and his former abbot. Michael has left after 20 years in the monastery because the contemplative life that he sought to live there has suddenly failed him. He has no belongings, no job history, and very little experience dealing with the messiness of ordinary life. He is also the first person to respond when single mother Rebecca Martin puts out a vacancy sign for the studio apartment on the ground floor of her house in the Bay Area. Rebecca is the mother of Mary Martha ( I initially had to have this parable from the Bible explained to me although it is explained quite sufficiently later in the book), and currently a graphic designer for a growing company that used to offer relaxed working hours; Rebecca is disillusioned with love and life.
Little do either Michael or Rebecca know that their relationship with one another may save their lives--in the metaphorical sense. Although I suppose it helps to have enough familiarity with religion and/or the Bible to understand some of those allusions in the story--including the correspondence Mike carries on with one of the brothers at the monastery--I did not find it difficult to work around. Both Rebecca and Michael captured my heart fairly early on with their flawed and funny (as in laugh out loud) lives. There are sad and philosophical parts, too. But mostly it is about two people trying to find their way through the messiness with their hearts and souls and integrity intact. This is a very sweet story that I REALLY enjoyed--so much so that I have ordered my own copy of the book as well as a copy of the sequel, The Monk Upstairs. Tim Farrington has written other books that sound like they have similar themes and I may grab those from the library. According to Kirkus (with whom I usually agree) I am a sap for liking this book, but according to Publishers Weekly this is a "a charmingly written, gratifyingly hopeful tale." I'm going with the latter.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

All Our Yesterdays

This is a book by Robert Parker that is not one of his well-known series (Spenser, Jesse Stone, Cole & Hitch, or Sunny Randall) but a stand-alone that looks at three generations of two families: the Sheridans and the Winslows. It is only when  3rd generation Christopher Sheridan is threatened with the loss of his long-term love, Grace Winslow, that it appears the self-destructive cycle of marrying the wrong woman for the wrong reason might be broken. Christropher not only breaks out of his safe ivory tower life as a professor of criminology at Harvard by accepting a special prosecutor's job tasked with investigating gang warfare, but he delves into his history by going back to his roots in Dublin where the trouble all began.
Chris' grandfather, Conn Sheridan, was a soldier with the IRA and became involved with a sympahtetic American woman, Hadley Winslow, during "the Troubles." When he was ordered to leave Dublin, he begged her to come with him, but she had seen their affair as no more than an adventurous fling and had no intention of abandoning her upper class life. She betrayed him to the British and he was put in jail, sentenced to hang. With the help of his colleagues in the IRA, he escaped and went overseas to Boston--not coincidentally, where Hadley was from. He became a cop, then a detective, and then a case came his way that brought Hadley not only back into his life, but also at his mercy.
This is also the story of Gus, Conn's son and Chris' father, who became a police chief, taking money from the gangs. He loves Chris to distraction and would and did do anything for him. But he never found a woman to love until he met the wife of Hadley's son, who was also the mother of Grace, Chris' partner. Yep, the three generations of Winslows had all been romantically involved with the three generations of Sheridans, mostly with disastrous consequences. But everyone is freed from their obsessions in the end--one way or another. As usual, Parker does an outstanding job of creating characters through dialogue even more than action. It is a long'ish book (nearly 500 pages) spanning several decades, but eminently readable.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Artists in Crime

On my lazy day today, I finished Dame Ngaio Marsh's mystery--the 6th in a series of 32 books featuring Inspector Roderick Alleyn--a fairly early one as this is where he meets the woman who later becomes his significant other, Agatha Troy. Alleyn has apparently been on extended leave from Scotland Yard's CID, having spent a year in New Zealand. He meets the well known artist, Agatha Troy, on board ship as he is returning to England via Fiji and then Quebec. He is immediately taken with her, and she is--he believes--immediately put off by him.
Upon coming home to visit his mother prior to returning to work, he is called up to solve a murder at the home of none other than Agatha Troy, who happens to live in the same village as his mum. An artist's model, employed by Troy to support a class of resident art students at her ancestral home, has been murdered--right in front of the class. This will certainly complicate any hopes Alleyn had for pursing a romantic relationship with Ms. Troy.
The book has a great plot. You know the obvious suspect may not really be the murderer, but it takes a while to find out who indeed has plotted to kill the annoying Sonia, since any number of people seem to have had motive and at least a few had opportunity. A second murder--this time of the primary suspect--creates a more complicated picture, but through the solid detective work of Alleyn and colleague Fox, the crime is solved. Published in 1938, this book was fun to read because of the somewhat dated British phrases. One of the early characters, for example, is referred to as "the success" of the cruise ship, meaning she is wildly popular with the men and has a troop of them following her about.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Once a Hero

I long ago read a sci-fi book by Elizabeth Moon,  Remnant Population, that I liked a lot because it had a strong female protagonist and an interesting plot. Then quite recently I read a slightly futuristic book with a male protagonist who had Autism Spectrum Disorder which was just so compelling, The Speed of Dark. This was a book I picked up at DPL Friends' shop for the trip and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Looks like this is part of her "Serrano Legacy" series which had several books that came before and several that came after. Nevertheless, it was sufficiently self-contained that it is worth while reading for it's own sake.
Esmay Suiza, as a junior officer in the Regular Space Service, has apparently not only survived a treasonous attempt by her former ship's captain to turn against the government, but then led a "mutiny" against that captain with a number of the crew. She then went on to defeat the enemy ships using only a partially disabled disabled cruiser. She had never been in combat and yet displayed uncommon abilities to strategize and lead. Where has she been hiding herself all this time? She must face a Board of Inquiry and a court martial, but is eventually cleared of all charges, promoted to Lieutenant, and reassigned to a deep space repair vehicle. First though, she is given 30 days leave and returns to her home planet of Altiplano, where she finds out that the recurring nightmares she's struggled with all her life derived from an actual rape when she was 6 years old, NOT from fever-generated dreams as her father and family asserted for all these years. She is furious and vows never to return.
How will she move forward in the RSS though now that her efforts to remain unobtrusive have been well and fully compromised by her heroic performance during the mutiny. Her commanding officers recognize that she has great potential, but Esmay cannot yet fully accept that view of herself and is terrified of getting psychological counseling that might her her reconcile these conflicting perceptions. Then Esmay uncovers a plot to hijack her ship by a terrifying enemy and again rises to the occasion. I would love to read more of these, even though I am not normally a big sci-fi fan. Moon has obviously put so much thought into these worlds she creates that every sentence conveys a picture. Brilliant really.

Death of a Village

These books by M.C. Beaton featuring highland police constable Hamish Macbeth are always light and entertaining, although now that I have discovered a good reader for the audio versions (Graeme Malcolm), that is really my preferred mode because he gets the accents just right! As usual, Hamish is ever so much smarter than those in the police hierarchy above him and manages to solve crimes, small and large, where others fail to even see a crime is being committed. Here he uncovers an insurance scam involving local shop keepers, a more serious conspiracy at a nearby retirement community in which the residents are apparently being killed off in order to gain title to their property, and then a whole town that has been terrified into silence by some ruthless and clever thieves who are plundering a sunken WWII sub off the coast. As usual Hamish does not want to take credit for the crimes he solves because then he would be promoted and have to leave his lazy life in the village of Lochdubh, where he raises sheep and chickens and occasionally poaches fish from the forestry lands. So he usually manages to shift this onto another person involved or else break just enough rules to get reprimanded but not arrested. He has the predictable problems with women in this episode with local reporter Elspeth Grant being the primary player, and the Currie sisters spreading their typically muddled mix of gossip to muddy the waters.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

311 Pelican Court

Debbie Macomber is an author I have encountered in the distant past, but someone whose books are always around at the airport, so I grabbed one from the "Friends" shop at the public library when I was loading up on vacations reading options. This is the 3rd is a whole series of books set in Cedar Cove on the Kitsap peninsula of Washington state. There is a preceding list of characters and their relationships to one another. In this book we find the inter-twined stories of Olivia and Grace, two best friends since childhood, Grace's daughter, Maryellen who plans to be a single mother, Olivia's mother Charlotte who is taking up community causes in her old age, and the residents of Pelican Court, divorcing couple Zach and Rosie along with their children Allison and Eddie. There is a parallel storyline about the mysterious death of a man last winter at the local B & B, Thyme and Tide, who remains unidentified, but the main story is how Judge Olivia Lockheart's unusual awarding of the house to Allison and Eddie is going to play out. Well written if you don't mind jumping from one story line and set of characters to another every few pages. Pretty believable people populate this picturesque town, so they seem accessible, and Washingtonians will appreciate the locale descriptions.