Sunday, September 18, 2016

Second Grave on the Left

Yes the title is significant. A valuable clue is hidden there in this 2nd installment in the "Charley Davidson" Series by Darynda Jones (see also my post on First Grave on the Right). This is another wild ride with Grim Reaper, Charley Davidson, who in her regular life is a private detective. She has the ability of being able to see and talk to dead people who have not yet passed over, and to help them reach the other side.  Her father, a former detective, and her Uncle Bob, currently a detective with the Albuquerque PD, have, with her help,  solved an uncommonly high percentage of cases. People are a little suspicious and, in some cases, openly hostile at her ability to find killers.
When best friend and receptionist Cookie drags Charley out of bed in the middle of the night to help find a missing friend, Charley is awakened from a dreamy conversation with Reyes Farrow, the Son of Satan (yes, literally). Reyes has vacated his human body, which was in a coma in a prison hospital, and is being held prisoner by torturing demons. But he won't tell Charley where he is because she is the real target of his kidnapping--a portal to heaven for the evil creatures. Nevertheless he visits her in her dreams with lust in his heart. So Charley is trying to find Reyes on her own and trying to find Cookie's friend Mimi before a killer does. Fast-paced plot, sex, the supernatural, humor, and a kick-ass woman PI... these books have it all!

No Shred of Evidence

Author Charles Todd is actually a mother and son writing team and this is the latest (2016) installment in the "Inspector Ian Rutledge" series, which boasts over 2 dozen books. The time frame is just two years after the end of WWI in England, and protagonist Ian Rutledge is one of the many soldiers who has come home in worse shape than he left it. He was buried alive in a suicidal mission at the end of the war and carries the ghost and guilt of one of his former soldiers with him as a constant commentator and frequent tormentor.
In the north of Cornwall, 4 young women from moneyed families take advantage of a last sunny day and go out for a row on the Camel River only to see in the distance a young man from town, Harry the banker's son, apparently in dire straits on a sinking dinghy. They race to reach him before he drowns but are unable to haul him aboard. When they try to extend an oar to him, they lose control, hit him on the head, and are on the brink of capsizing. A farmer on shore swims out and helps pull the unconscious man aboard; however, when the group reaches shore, he swears to one and all that he saw the women trying to drown the man. The women are taken into custody but then released to the home of the local magistrate, Grenville, who is the father of one of the young women. Grenville also calls in a favor from the Home Office, and Scotland Yard sends an investigator, who dies of a heart attack two days into the inquiry. So now Rutledge is sent and it turns out he knows one of the accused. It is their word against that of the adamant farmer and, when Harry remains comatose and dies of his injuries, Rutledge is the only one who can save the women from the gallows--if he can find any evidence to support their version of events.
When a series of seemingly unrelated brutal beatings and murders occur in the same cluster of villages,  Rutledge is the only one who can seem to connect the dots. This was really a very clever plot, and I would definitely read other books in the series and also to check out the other series by this team, the "Bess Crawford" books.  

Treachery in Death

Always good for an engaging read or listen, this is another installment in pseudonymous J. D. Robb's (Nora Roberts) "In Death" series, of which there are over 40, almost all of them making the NYT bestseller list. I have one previous blog post for Thankless in Death, but have listened to numerous others while on car trips. The characters are well developed (no surprise after 40 novels) and interesting, the plots engaging, and the slightly futuristic settings well drawn.
 In the latter 21st century, protagonist Eve Dallas is a lieutenant and head of Homicide for New York Police and Security Department (NYPSD). Her stalwart partner, Peabody, has now made detective grade and so Eve often gives her more of a lead role in investigations. Nevertheless, Eve will never be a desk jockey and is very involved when cases come along. This episode is kicked off when Peabody overhears a conversation between dirty cops in the locker room of a seldom-used departmental gym. They have clearly ordered a hit on one of their minions and Peabody is genuinely in fear for her life if the dirty cops discover her cowering naked in a shower stall. She reports what she has learned to Eve and it turns out that the leader of this corruption is the daughter of a decorated and revered former chief of the NYPSD. The corruption has spread beyond one department, Eve is not sure who to trust, and so the investigation must be run somewhat off the books. Eve deliberately sets herself up as a target by finding the murdered snitch, and refusing to treat it as the overdose it was staged to appear, thereby getting into Lt. Oberman's face and that of her mostly corrupt detectives, who are supposed to investigate the illegal use of drugs (what would be called "Narcotics" today is called "Illegals" in the book). Oberman is paranoid, clever and thorough, but Eve is just as cunning and, with the help of trusted colleagues, she uncovers both the trail of money and of bodies. A fast and enjoyable read.

The Last Bookaneer

I tried once again to read Matthew Pearl (see previous blog on The Technologists), especially since this was such a great title.  Set in 1890's London, bookaneers track down as-yet-unpublished manuscripts and sell them to the highest bidder. However, increasingly  restrictive copyright laws may be bringing this somewhat shady profession to an end. The infamous Pen Davenport, accompanied by reluctant assistant Fergins, sets out for one final heist, sailing off to Samoa where Robert Louis Stevenson is reportedly working on his final book. I love the premise but just felt bogged down in the writing with no characters that really grabbed my interest. Abort.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

House of the Rising Sun

This is the 4th in James Lee Burke's Holland family series that feature Hackberry Holland. We meet up with Hack when he has been desperately trying to find his estranged son, Ishmael, in the middle of the Mexican Revolution in 1916. He has done things he would rather not think about and is now lost in the desert, bootless, weaponless, and on the run using a horse stolen from Pancho Villa's army, when he stumbles upon a bordello with a hearse sitting out front. He is captured by the Mexican soldiers who have taken the house and killed several of Ishmael's cavalry company of black soldiers.  Hack escapes and blows up the weapons that were hidden in the hearse after rescuing a gold-embellished onyx goblet, rumored to be the Grail. The madame, Beatrice DeMolay, has a profound impact on him and will enter the picture again as the story goes on.  He does not find Ishmael, but keeps searching and writing him letters.
Two years later, in 1918, we join Ishmael at the Battle of the Marne and get vivid descriptions of the insanity that is war. He is grievously wounded and sent back to the U.S. In the meantime, we get some background on Hack's meeting of Ishmael's mother, Ruby Dansen, their separation and Hack's thwarted attempts to reconcile with her and reunite the family. His efforts fail largely as the result of his on-again, off-again wife's (Maggie Bassett) destruction of vital communications between Ruby and Hack. Ruby and Ishmael are left thinking that Hack promised to come get them and then never showed.  Ishmael thinks his father, "Big Bud," abandoned them.
Beatrice, Ruby and Maggie will wind in and out of Hack's life as he tries to find his way forward to seeing his son again. Another major player in this drama is the Austrian arms dealer, Arnold Beckman. Both the hearse full of destroyed weapons and the cup were Beckman's, and he is determined to get it back at any cost. Beckman aligns himself with Maggie and kidnaps Ishmael from a military hospital to hold hostage in order to get the Grail back. Beckman is the embodiment of amoral evil, but Hack also has a demonic destructive force inside him that either drives him to drink self-destructively or lay waste to those he believes do wrong.
Although, the ending is satisfying, the level of darkness in the book was often times nearly overwhelming, leaving me wondering if any good could come out of the guilt and self-loathing that Hack evidences. Burke is of course an outstanding writer--his prose is second to none. But this is not an upper of a read, even at the very end. 

Sweet Tea Revenge

Not hard to guess from the title that this is from Laura Childs' "Tea Shop Mystery" series (#14 to be precise). These are engaging reads for several reasons: they are well written with interesting characters; I love the setting descriptions of Charleston, SC; plots and story trajectory are somewhat predictable but nevertheless sufficiently challenging; they are full of luscious descriptions of teas and food; the recipes for the teas and food follow the text plus a lot of other interesting tea resources.
Delaine Dish, owner of the Cotton Duck boutique and friend of Theo"s, is finally getting married--to a very wealthy man-- and Theodosia is to be the maid of honor. But then the groom turns up dead and Delaine pleads with Theo to find out who killed her future husband.  It could be the long-estranged step-son who has suddenly re-insinuated himself into his step-father's life and law practice, or perhaps the vicious ex-girlfriend, or maybe even Dougan's law partner. In her inimitable fashion, Theo manages to investigate all the leads, help the police, and still keep the Indigo tea shop perking along with help from baker extraordinaire, Haley and tea-master, Drayton.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Fire Touched

One of my favorite guilty pleasures is reading the "Mercy Thompson" series from Patricia Briggs, and this is the 9th and most recent (2016) installment. I have blogged about the previous eight if you want to know who characters are.
The Columbia Basin pack is called out to help when a monstrous troll begins taking apart one of the bridges across the Columbia River near the Tri-Cities and smashing up cars and their passengers. Newest pack member, Joel, a fiery Tibicena, joins the werewolves in finally containing the monster. This seems certain to be a challenge from the exiled Fae, and Mercy brazenly responds , making the pack a highly visible--and vulnerable-- target. This focuses  previous mutterings of dissatisfaction within the pack against Mercy and brings Adam's leadership into question. When Zee and Tad mysteriously reappear a day later after several weeks' unexplained absence, with an apparently young boy in tow, the tension really ramps up, for the boy, Aiden, who has been kept as a prisoner/ playmate in a fae nether world for decades, has come to the pack seeking sanctuary from the Grey Lords of the Fae. As always, there is non-stop action, cohesive and well-developed characters, and a well-thought-out alternative world presented here. There is also a bit of humor in a pissing match between the juvenile appearing asylum seeker and Adam's daughter, Jesse.