Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Notorious Nineteen

I do not know how I could have missed this installment in Janet Evanovich's "Stephanie Plum" number series; I have read every single other one, including Takedown Twenty. Predictable in so many ways, but also predictably entertaining. Evanovich likes to keep the "big question" of who Stephanie will finally end up with going and going--will it be her cop boyfriend, Morelli, or the equally handsome and somewhat darker Ranger. Someone from Ranger's old special forces unit has gone off the beaten path and is threatening both Ranger and his friend and former fellow soldier, Kinsey, who is supposed to be getting married. The threats are scarey and are not limited to just Ranger and Kinsey but extend to Kinsey's fiancee, and now to Stephanie, since she has agreed to be Ranger's "date" and 2nd set of eyes at the various pre/wedding festivities. In the meantime, Stephanie and Lula are trying to bring in a variety of perps who have missed their court dates. The biggest monetary prize would come from Geoffrey Cubbin,  a man who embezzled $5m from the local retirement home, Cranberry Manor, and who Vinnie put up a lot of bail money for. Stephanie is behind on her rent and needs to score, and she just can't figure out how a man could go missing from a hospital floor--unless someone or some ones from the hospital staff are in on the disappearance. Turns out, this is not the first patient to go "missing" from the hospital. Cars blow up, apprehension situations are frequently slapstick (think arresting someone while you are naked), and the heat between Stephanie and Morelli and between Stephanie and Ranger never seems to die down. All the rest of the usual cast are present and making a good accounting of themselves. Good plot line; great light reading.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Summer House with Swimming Pool

I did not read The Dinner, Herman Koch's first novel, which apparently got rave reviews, but based on reading this book, I am not going to seek it out either. I thought about stopping several times but just kept reading more out of morbid curiosity. I did not like any of the characters in this book, not that they weren't well drawn, rather that they are really not likable people. And if you can't identify with any of the characters or at least admire them, what is the point? Set in Holland and maybe France, the protagonist is a Dutch GP, Marc Schlosser, who really detests his patients, as best I can tell. He does not want them to take their clothes off because he thinks they are ugly, and he just listens to them for 20 minutes because he figures that's what it takes to keep them coming back. When a famous actor, Ralph Meier, becomes a patient, and then invites Schlosser, his wife and two daughters to visit him and his family at the summer home the Meiers rent near the coast of ???, life begins to spin out of control. There is something "off" about Meier, the way he looks at women, and on one occasion, his apparent willingness to beat them senseless if they provoke and then deny him sexually. When Schlosser's 14-year-old daughter disappears one evening while everyone is at the beach and is later found raped, suspicions grow, and Schlosser takes an unexpected opportunity to punish Meier, using his knowledge and skill as a physician. Turns out Meier didn't commit the rape, but he's dead now anyway, thanks to Schlosser, and really, he deserved to die. Just checked the NYT Book Review, and was pleasantly surprised to find they shared my assessment!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Promise of Shadows

This is a new author to me, Justina Ireland, and apparently this is only her 2nd novel. But the premise is a popular one, i.e., half gods (half humans) live among or near us and we poor mortals know nothing about it. Politics, feuds, prophecies and ancient enmities fuel this entertaining tale with a Harpy and various other beings based on Greek mythology providing the cast. When the book opens, we meet 20 something Zephyr Mourning (the aforementioned Harpy) who has been sent to Tartarus (part of the Underworld) to toil the rest of her life away, because she killed one of the  Æthereals.
Harpies are warrior women, but Zephyr has never really been any good at conjuring magic or killing people, so imagine her shock when she finds her sister murdered and she actually kills the murderer--who just happens to be a god. Harpies aren't supposed to be able to do that, and Zephyr is further surprised that the High Council (the gods) condemn her to a hellish labor camp instead of death. Someone is pulling strings. When a childhood friend, Tallon, along with his brother Blue, show up to break Zephyr and her guardian/friend Cass out of the Underworld and take them back to the Mortal Realm, things start looking up. And then Zephyr finds out that the half-gods all think she is their promised savior, the Nyx, a dark goddess who can finally help them regain power against the abusive gods. Zephyr is a coward as well as a klutz and she just doesn't see how she is going to save the world, but she is fueled by her rage against those who ordered her sister's murder, and then also killed her best friend, Cass. It looks like Hera is behind a plot to kill anyone who might have dark powers and capture their shades for a magical spell that will give her dominion over all mortals. Turns out that Hades is Zephyr's father, so she has much more power at her disposal than she ever realized and she swears she will avenge the shades of her sister, Cass, and all the other murdered victims or die trying. The powers of light are not always right, nor are the dark powers necessarily bad in this story--a welcome change. If you enjoyed the series from Rick Riordan or Michael Scott with similar mythological approaches, you will love this slightly older age outing. Review from Kirkus is here.

Never Go Back

This novel in the "Jack Reacher" series by Lee Child is predictable, but also predictably satisfying as are the other Reacher books I have read. Reacher has been carrying on lengthy phone conversations with the current commander of the 110th MP, the unit he used to command. Her name is Susan Turner and, for no other reason than because he likes her voice, he has traveled back to DC to ask her to dinner. And because Reacher lives his life the way he does, with no more baggage than a folding toothbrush, he can do just that. But someone is expecting Reacher and has some surprises in store for him, including a paternity suit from a woman he claims not to know, and a wrongful death suit--validated only by affadavit--regarding a man Reacher says he never laid a hand on. To top it off, Major Turner has been incarcerated on bribery charges that very day. Reacher gets "called up" by the acting commander, essentially re-enlisted, and then arrested and imprisoned. Even before that, however, tough guys were sent to Reacher's motel room to try and scare him into leaving town. And we all know Reacher never walks away from a fight. And now he figures that all these trumped up charges have something to do with him coming back to see Turner. So he finds a way to break them both out of prison so they can figure out what the hell is going on that is so important, and who is pulling the strings at such a high level. For the pursuers seem to know their every move mere minutes after they make them in spite of their best efforts to cover their tracks. They head to California to find out if Reacher really has a daughter he didn't know about, with the DC metro police, the FBI and the secret enemies all in pursuit. Of course he will best the bad buys, solve the mystery, and walk away without the girl. That's what Reacher does, and you'll be rooting for him all the way.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Silent Night

Apparently when he died in 2010, Robert Parker had begun the manuscript for this Spenser novel set at Christmas time. His literary agent of several decades, who also become the executor of his literary estate, undertook to finish it. The premise is that an 11 year old boy comes to Spenser's office to seek his help for the man running a home for street kids. When Spenser investigates further, he find that Jackie Alvarez has an unlicensed home, Street Business, that takes kids off the street and gets them started with minimum wage jobs. Someone has been roughing up the kids and stealing their money. Alvarez wants Spenser to help find who is responsible and put a stop to it. Perfect sort of case for our literate do-gooder private eye and gourmet cook. Christmas is coming and Spenser is trying to plan the menu in-between investigating. Turns out the problems is Jackie's older brother, Juan Alvarez, big-time Boston philanthropist and successful business man, who has also been providing the money to keep Street Business running. The tricky part is figuring out why Alvarez wants to shut down Street Business, and catch him in the act, without jeopardizing the home and the kids who have taken sanctuary there. Hawk, Susan, Pearl, and even Rita Fiori all make a showing. I don't think the dialogue between Spenser and Hawk is quite as sharp, but the element that ties this particular piece of pro-bono work to Hawk's past is somewhat intriguing. Kirkus did not give this a glowing review, nor did Publishers Weekly. Strictly for Parker/ Spenser die-hards; otherwise, you will get more joy from the earlier Spenser novels.

All the Light We Cannot See

This brand new novel by Anthony Doerr is set in the run-up to and through WWII, and told through the viewpoints of two main characters. Marie Laure went fully blind at age 6 and lives with her father, who is the key master at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. As the Germans approach Paris, Marie-Laure's father is entrusted by the museum with a rare diamond to keep it hidden; Marie-Laure and her father head east and eventually arrive to stay with her great uncle, Etienne, on the isle of Saint-Malo. Her father is not only a skilled locksmith, but also a maker of exquisite small models. He built one for Marie-Laure of their entire Paris neighborhood so she could learn her way around. He is building her one for the town of Saint-Malo when he is betrayed by a collaborator for "taking measurements" of buildings.  Interned in a German prison camp, he is never seen again. Etienne has suffered what was then called "shell shock" from his experience in the Great War, and has not left his house (and often his room) for several decades. He is cared for by a housekeeper, who gets fed up and joins the resistance. She persuades Etienne to use a hidden radio transmitter in the attic of their house to transmit logistical coordinates. When the old woman dies of pneumonia, Marie-Laure and Etienne take over the task of picking up the information in a loaf of bread and transmitting the valuable data.
Our other main story teller is Werner Pfennig, who, with his younger sister Jutta, is raised by an French nun in an orphanage in a mining town in Germany. Their father was killed in the mines and Werner expects the same fate to befall him unless he can escape. He finds old radio parts in the trash and is able to receive transmissions of science talks for kids before they are cut off by the war. It turns out that the broadcasts were recordings made by Etienne's brother. Werner becomes the local radio repair wizard and at age 12 is sent to a school for German boys to be trained as an electronics engineer. He eventually helps develop equipment that can be used to locate the transmissions of resistance groups and is sent out with a small group of German soldiers to locate these radios and kill the people operating them. Near the end of the war, he gets sent to Saint-Malo and his path crosses that of Marie-Laure, but he cannot bring himself to betray her.
This is a story rich in character, setting, and emotion. It is often bleak, although not hopeless. Excellent historical fiction and a thoroughly engrossing read. Rave reviews and more detailed summaries from the NYT, The Guardian, and The Washington Post.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Burning

New author for me but this was such a good, twisty procedural that I may seek out more by Jane Casey, as this is the first in a series with DC Maeve Kerrigan of the London Police Force major crimes unit as the protagonist. Kerrigan is of Irish heritage and, as such, continually suspect among her British colleagues, to say nothing of being a woman in a highly male and sexist job environment. In this debut novel, Maeve is finding that her well-to-do boyfriend and flat mate, Ian, seems more and more like he is from a foreign planet rather than just a higher social strata. He, in turn, has run out of patience with Maeve's determined focus on her job at the expense of everything else.  The case that drags her out of bed as the story opens is a serial killer who beats his young female victims to death and then sets them on fire. This time, however, Maeve thinks there is something off about the murder, like maybe some copycat just wants the police to think it is the serial killer. Maeve has trouble convincing her immediate superior, but the head of the task force is also not so sure about this and sets Maeve the task of finding out more about the woman. Maeve digs in but does not want to lose her toe hold on the serial killer task force. She gets more than she bargained for when an undercover sting puts her directly in the path of the killer and she is almost killed. Although Maeve thinks of herself as a failure in the appearance department--hair always awry, clothes never quite right--she is beginning to notice more than professional interest from her fellow DC on the task force, Rob Langton. If you like police procedurals, this one is really well wrought with a feminist twist and the added attraction of being set in England.