Thursday, December 18, 2014

Mark Sullivan, THIEF: Page-Turning Suspense with Revelations

Mark Sullivan used to be sort of a Vermont author; Dave and I lined up his early books, The Fall Line, Hard News -- and then reading The Purification Ceremony terrified me and almost stopped me from collecting his later titles. Almost ...

Then Sullivan's work with James Patterson began to add up: Private Games, Private Berlin, Private L.A. In hindsight, I wonder whether that kind of teamwork also shaped his plot and character work, pushing him toward choosing his own form of thriller featuring Robin Monarch, a hard-fighting, team-working, killing-when-necessary rogue and outlaw (and those are the first two titles in this series: Rogue, Outlaw.)

Now THIEF has pushed Robin Monarch and his team to new extremes, robbing the rich and supporting the poor in three vastly different terrains: high-money Greenwich, Connecticut, where Robin plans to relieve an unscrupulous bully of some ill-gotten wealth; cold and snowy enemy-hunting in Switzerland; and the hot, humid, parasite-riddled, but exotically gorgeous Amazon Basin, among indigenous peoples who've adapted to their environment effectively, without outside contact.

If you're already reading the Robin Monarch series, you know you can trust author Mark Sullivan to press the pace and keep Robin demonstrating his martial arts and the sniping and scoring skills of his teammates, like rapid researcher Gloria Barnett and battle-ready buddies Claudio and Chanel. What you might not expect, though -- and if you're new to Robin, this will guarantee you multilayered exploration in THIEF -- is backflashes to when this tough attacker was a kid, and Sister Rachel took him in, from a gang life in a Brazilian slum. Really? Can Robin Monarch's "Robin Hood" existence be explained by the backpack of rocks that Sister Rachel strapped to the child who'd already become a killer? You bet.

But you'll have to get the story "one rock at a time," as Robin's perils turn out to have more to do with those long-ago choices than anyone except Sister Rachel herself might guess:
[Monarch:] "Anything on Vargas?"

"He's dead."

"Then his ghost just tried to kill me and Claudio before the police showed up." ...

Why would he try to take them out now, after so many years? He could see the guy carrying a grudge. That was not hard to imagine. But why would he decide now, after more than twenty years, to exact his revenge?

Monarch had no easy answers. As he faded into unconsciousness, his mind sought out the last time he'd seen the man before today.
The expertise of Robin Monarch's team -- including major amounts of tech wizardry -- pushes his exploits to the level of "believable enough" as the plot races forward. The flashbacks make sense, the vulnerability of Sister Rachel and her orphanage and hospital come through clearly, and thanks to the scientific and personal courage of Dr. Estella Santos of Rio de Janeiro, Robin Monarch gets an extra dose of inspiration and stubbornness to carry him along.

Grab this one for the pure rush of escape into adventure and action and suspense -- with professional thief Robin Monarch and his crew of nontraditional allies, Mark Sullivan has found his own swift pace.

We sort of wish he still hung out in Vermont.*

[*Since you asked: Bozeman, Montana. Author's website here.]

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Professor Turns Sleuth: DEATH IN EDEN, Paul J. Heald

If you "google" the name of Paul Heald, with the word "author" pegged onto it, you'll come up with copyright law, and economics, and connections to the University of Illinois, as well as Oxford, Vanderbilt, and the University of Chicago.

So, what's the professor doing in a mysteries review? Simple. He's taken the maxim "write what you know" and written a mystery of a professor who turns sleuth, under the multiple pressures of the race for tenure, a wife who wants to be pregnant, and an old fraternity buddy in trouble.

Now, I'm not suggesting that Professor Heald has old friends in the "adult film" industry the way his sleuth, Stanley Hopkins, has! (Although I couldn't help noticing the absence of the usual list of thanks to those working in the field ... perhaps to protect the privacy of the guilty?) But Heald certainly knows the forces that operate in university culture, and he's crafted a perfect storm of reasons to press an academic into investigation.

DEATH IN EDEN begins with Prof. Stanley Hopkins's urgent need to find a group of working women who'll provide employment data as a balance for the final chapter of his highly researched book. And when it occurs to him to use his connection with porn producer Donald Johansson -- who wants to craft fine films out of what used to be just sex scenes -- Hopkins realizes he's got not just the right topic to fill out the book, but a hot one that will bring him attention. And oh yes, boost him over the wall into being tenured. It just so happens he has a law degree in his background, so when his buddy Donald is accused of murdering a sex star (and Hopkins is pretty sure the charge can't be right), he goes beyond his original plan for interviews, and digs more deeply into the California porn scene than his wife appreciates.

Soon Hopkins adds a motive of saving his marriage to the others pushing him along. There's really no choice: He's even getting grilled by the police:
"Do you have any idea why Mr. Johansson has been so insistent on seeing you today?"

"No, sire." [Hopkins] normally never called anyone 'sir,' but the detective's demeanor seemed to demand some kind of honorific. "Don's an old friend from college. We just renewed our acquaintance when my wife and I came out to Los Angeles to do an academic study of adult film stars."
Obviously the police aren't quite convinced by that one. Even Hopkins has trouble believing what he's stepped into. It's pretty far from the university office, after all!

This is a first mystery, with plenty of extra scenes and description that can be skimmed -- the pace isn't yet expert in terms of suspense and tension, although I had a lot of fun in several of the scenes. Hopkins is in some ways terribly naive! His wife, not so much ... There are quite a few moments when Heald turns the point of view to one of the women on hand, whether the academic wife or the "adult film" stars, and those are lively and entertaining. Plot twists make good sense, even when they take a while to unfold, and the final actions Hopkins takes to get to the crime's solution spin into a lively finale.

I appreciate the author sending the book for review, and I hope he'll keep writing -- mysteries, that is. If you're collecting Illinois-based mysteries, California film scenarios, or academic action, grab a copy of DEATH IN EDEN. It's fun, it raises great topics to argue (are porn stars really mostly that nice?), and I'm delighted to see the lure of suspense and intrigue, at work on an author of copyright documents and other legal chapters. Go for it, Professor Hopkins -- err, I mean, Professor Heald!

[Published by Yucca Publishing, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing; here's a link to the book, but it's also available through the usual other channels, including independent bookstores.]

Local Author: AN UNCERTAIN GRAVE, Cathy Strasser (New Hampshire)

Yes, Kingdom Books is in Vermont -- but New Hampshire is only seven miles from us. And we're happy fans of a New Hampshire traditional restaurant, Polly's Pancakes, in Sugar Hill, NH, about 25 miles away. Pulled together, that explains why I'll say that Cathy Strasser, who lives in Sugar Hill, NH, is "local" to Kingdom Books ... and it also explains why a copy of her 2014 mystery AN UNCERTAIN GRAVE reached me through a neighbor on the ridge here.

Strasser's first mystery (her "day job" is occupational therapy) is a good one, well plotted and paced. The first few chapters are the only ones that show up as "early writer" work -- and an attentive editor might have suggested trimming the last few pages. As the narrative swings around from a couple of directions, the story is both of police solving a crime and journalists pushing their way into it. Front and center in the book is Mt. Lafayette, for the ordinary hiker a pretty challenging mountain, visible from most of the town of Sugar Hill. When a first-time visitor literally stumbles over a decomposing body on the mountain, nearby NH State Troopers Cliff Codey and Mike Eldritch investigate. A couple of vacationing urban newspaper reporters on scene push into the investigation, looking for a hot story, or at least a way to memorialize what turns out to be a young woman's senseless death in the North Country.

I enjoyed Strasser's clever and entertaining storytelling style, and although her changes among points of view -- including that of the killer -- can be a bit distracting, she's a pro at demonstrating multiple levels in her characters, including the junk-collecting but educated hermit Bonwit Felton and an intriguing side character, Kurt, whose willingness to hire emotional misfits for his lodging and rescue business turns out to be central in both the crime and Trooper Codey's growing uneasiness with the situation. There's a haunting back-story to Codey, and Strasser uses it to add to the suspense.

Readers who prefer to avoid gore will find this traditional mystery a good fit -- and for those collecting New England crime fiction in particular, AN UNCERTAIN GRAVE is a must. I look forward to more from this author, and especially to more about the State Troopers she's conjured into position on her Investigative Services Bureau in one of the wilder sections of the Granite State.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Cozy in the Kitchen: New Mysteries-With-Recipes for Relaxing

Crossing off items on a holiday list? Baking and freezing for the upcoming party? Pick up a "cozy" mystery for relief, especially for that feeling of being burnt-out as the year wraps around its shortest days, and spring seems a loooong way off ... The "cozy killers" that Kensington Books brought out in the past few weeks are just plain fun to read: mysteries with amateur sleuths whose passion for life -- and for justice -- somehow entangles them in snooping, sleuthing, and solving.

Lee Hollis -- pen name of a brother and sister team -- started the "Hayley Powell Food and Cocktails Mystery" series with Death of a Kitchen Diva. And a couple of years ago, I enjoyed Hollis's Death of a Country Fried Redneck. DEATH OF A CHRISTMAS CATERER, this year's treat, is actually the fifth is this cheerful series. Hayley Powell has her own newspaper column, food-focused of course, a favorite part of the gutsy little publication in her Maine town, the Island Times. This year her editor boss is in a personal crisis, and dumps the office holiday party in Hayley's lap. She books a great caterer -- but when she and the caterer find out that the newspaper's party budget is miniscule, the caterer drops the job. And soon drops dead (not Hayley's fault!). Hayley makes some awful choices about her own private life while scrambling to solve the murder, and the suspense about finding the criminal is almost equaled by wondering whether she'll pull her life together in time, as well!

Tucked among the chapters are some of Hayley's flavorful columns, each one wrapping up with both a beverage and a food recipe ... like Crock-Pot Christmas Stew, and Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie. I wish Hayley lived next door! Meanwhile, after galloping through her adventures, I'm motivated to head to the kitchen. And while I'm cooking, I'll be mulling over the unusual and clever mode of death that Hollis's book involves. Somebody did some startling research for this one!

Equally enjoyable is Maya Corrigan's first "Five Ingredient Mystery," BY COOK OR BY CROOK, where Val Deniston is still adjusting to the drastic change in her life after a car accident -- no longer promoting chefs' cookbooks in New York City, she's come home to her grandfather and the family house near the Chesapeake Bay. Her new job isn't exactly high end: She's running the Cool Down Café at the local fitness club and taking part on a tennis team. But when her cousin Monique is the lead suspect in the death of one of the tennis players, Val becomes determined to find the real killer, and get her cousin out of trouble. Meanwhile two would-be suitors on hand are tangling with her grandfather, and the "cooking codger" himself is sneaking into Val's recipe collection, with ulterior motives.

Each book of Corrigan's series will include five suspects, five clues, and some five-ingredient recipes (Val's grandfather thinks anyone can handle five ingredients!). My choice from BY COOK OR BY CROOK is going to be the potato recipe, which looks terrific ... then again, so does the one for a strata ... and those macaroons ... The recipes all show up during Val's sleuthing, too. Mmm!

I have two more of these kitchen cozies to review in a couple of days. Meanwhile, next up: a college professor tackles employment research among California porn stars! And then some international titles. Come on back for more.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

IRÈNE, Pierre Lemaitre: Extraordinary French Crime Writing

[Note to readers of "traditional" or "amateur sleuth" or "cozy" mysteries: Stay with us this week. We have a lot to write about! But this one's probably not your cuppa tea.]

Consider yourself fortunate if you have NOT yet read Pierre Lemaitre's Alex, which is the second in the Vanderhoeven trilogy -- somehow the lines of translation from French to the English-reading market got royally twisted, and Alex, which is the second in this investigative threesome, came out earlier.

Today, however, is the release date for
--> IRÈNE -- the first in the series -- and if you like rich literary mystery writing, or dark European work, or are building a collection of French mysteries, this one is definitely for you.

Commandant Camille Vanderhoeven is a master interviewer of criminals and victims alike. It's a side effect of his artistic imagination and skills, handed down from his mother, a superb painter whose early death has left her studio silenced. As IRÈNE opens, Camille is making a deft sketch of the battered woman in his office who chooses not to reveal her batterer's whereabouts. Laying the lines onto the paper is background for his quick questions of the young woman -- and for his stagecraft, as he has already primed the interview with a planned interruption from a colleague, with a faked report that, in turn, will nudge the young woman into divulging the information that Camille needs.

This scene, in turn, is the author's sketch of the man whose shoes we inhabit for more than 400 pages, as Commandant Vanderhoeven heads up the search for a serial killer. The book's title is the name of Camille's pregnant wife -- the couple is happily expecting their first child. But Camille won't spend much time with his wife, as he chases the murderer across France and backtracks some earlier killings elsewhere. Soon two defining aspects of the series of killings emerge: (1) The murderer is replicating ghastly scenes from classic crime fiction (it takes a while for Camille to realize this and confirm it, but readers will notice the detail on the book cover), and (2) this serial killer is responding to Camille's connection to him, by getting personal. Way too personal.

I like this early description of the first crime scene the French Commandant confronts:
There is no strategy for dealing with atrocity. And yet this was why he was here, staring at the nameless horror.

Before it had clotted, someone had used the victims' blood to daub on the wall in huge letters: I AM BACK. ... Camille stepped over the mangled body of a woman and went to the wall. At the end of the sentence, a finger had been pressed against the wall with great care. Every ridge and whorl was distinct; it looked just like the old-style ID cards when a duty officer would press your finger against the yellowing cardboard, rolling it carefully from one side to the other.

Dark sprays of blood spattered the walls all the way to the ceiling.

It took several minutes for Camille to compose himself. It would be impossible for him to think rationally in this setting -- everything he could see defied reason.
The very slight stiltedness to the language here is maintained throughout the book, and I think it's partly a result of the literary style of translation (by Frank Wynne) and partly Lemaitre's voice -- he has already won both an International Dagger from the Crime Writers Association, and France's prestigious literary prize, the Prix Goncourt. Thus, this one's not for impatient readers or those who like predictable pacing and plotting. 

But if you can make time to accept the author's pace, there's plenty of detail and tension to carry you along, and the blend of art and investigation is complex and memorable. When the book reaches its finale, keep in mind that there is a sequel to come -- I didn't know that when I first read this, and as a result I disliked the ending. But now that I know what's coming, I see the point of it, and the shape of the book makes sense (unlike the first crime scene!).

This is probably NOT going on holiday shopping lists. But if you have "time off" or a slowdown in December/January, it's a good one to put into your stack of to-be-read. Although the idea of crimes that copy books is not a new one, and although France is becoming a popular setting for translated crime fiction reaching the American market, Lemaitre's own blend of noir is haunting and memorable. Recommended, for sure. Keep an eye on future offerings from the publisher, Quercus, to track the rest of the series.

Monday, December 08, 2014

New Boston Crime Fiction Voice: THIRD RAIL, Rory Flynn

Some books are just too good to keep to yourself -- even while reading. THIRD RAIL is one of those. By the end of the first chapter, I was regularly interrupting my reading to comment to my husband, who is a long-time noir fan: "This one's for you." And by the third chapter, I was double checking the author's credits, because THIRD RAIL, featuring disgraced Boston cop Eddy Harkness, is way too good to be a debut crime novel.

And here's the fruit of my investigation: Rory Flynn is a pen name for Stona Fitch, erstwhile journalist and author of four dark and thought-provoking novels, spiked with dark humor and richly detailed characters and plots. In fact, Fitch was on his way into crime fiction before this change of name and announcement of the Eddy Harkness series. But I have to agree with the change: Rory Flynn actually "sounds" like the Boston he's summoning.

Boston might as well be one of the main characters in THIRD RAIL. Even though Eddy Harkness has been exiled from the downtown narcotics unit where he'd become a legend for his sense of where the goods are hidden (maybe even a "sixth sense"), and is supposed to be tending parking meters in a suburb, he can't resist following up on a fatal accident that swiftly pulls him into investigating distribution of a new "designer" drug ... and into the political dangers of the Boston crime world at the same time.

The fact that he's lost his service weapon (gun) and is crawling through Beantown's underworld armed with only a plastic toy gun isn't helping. Neither is his latest girlfriend, the notorious Thalia Havoc, barmaid extraordinaire in a shady watering hole.

Thalia's lack of sympathy for Eddy's loss of his gun is classic:
Thalia pulls the sheet up to cover her breasts. "Don't get all freaked out."

"This is serious, Thalia."

"Then go find it. Didn't you tell me you were really good at finding things?"
But it's the paragraphs right after this exchange that show how Flynn nails Boston over and over, in this place-bound narrative that "couldn't happen anywhere else":
Harkness retraces the straight route to the gas station with a kicking donkey on its sign, scanning the sidewalk and finding only cigarette butts, burger wrappers, beer bottles, receipts, losing scratch cards, crushed vodka nips, and a couple of mismatched gloves. He walks past tow lots with prowling Dobermans, a food bank with a line stretching around the block, and the low, hulking South Bay House of Correction, where Narco-Intel sent dozens of dealers. Harkness wonders if any of them are watching out the tiny square windows as he dives down and over, hands on cold cobblestones, to look beneath cars.

The Southeast Expressway roars with morning traffic and his head throbs like a slowcore band warming up. He's had rough nights out before, but nothing like this -- a lost night giving way to a cold reckoning.
Eddy Harkness is definitely the victim of this scam, and if his missing gun becomes known, he won't even be holding onto the parking meter route. Haunted by a death that he failed to prevent -- one that seems to have re-instituted the Curse of the Bambino on the Boston Red Sox, who haven't won a game since it happened -- Harkness is everyone's pick for kicking.

But he's stubborn. And his life hurts too much for him to give in to more abuse. And a career as a narcotics cop means he's got both experience and intelligence, if he can line them up in time and in the right way to beat this case and pull leverage against the criminals trying to frame him. Hey, it's much harder to do it solo than when you're part of a team. Eddy's got to try, anyway.

Occasional flickers of an Irish sort of sixth sense (haunting? really??) flit through but they don't distract from this dark, intense, and well-written investigation. I'm really, really glad to see all the traditional signs that this is the start of a series.

Best recommendation: If you like dark, and Boston, and torment balanced with smarts, pick up a copy of THIRD RAIL very soon, before it slips into later printings. The first printing's always best for collecting. Then line up for the next book. I listened to Rory Flynn at a recent crime fiction conference; he knows what he's doing, and this is likely to be a memorable series.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

ENTER PALE DEATH, Barbara Cleverly: Marvelous Addition to the Joe Sandilands Series

A quick count suggests that ENTER PALE DEATH is number 12 in the Joe Sandilands Investigations. I'm an enthusiastic reader of this series from Barbara Cleverly, which opened in colonial India with Joe turning to detection after the horrors of his World War I service, and soon moved "home" to England. ENTER PALE DEATH begins in spring of 1933 with the death of Lady Lavinia Truelove, presumably by horse-related accident, at her country estate. And that means that for Joe, any contact with investigating this death -- and others, some quite a while ago, in the neighborhood -- is fraught with career danger. For Lady Truelove's politically limber husband is moving toward becoming Joe's boss.

Which only goes to show that even as an Assistant Commissioner, Joe's police role is rarely secure. Nor is his romantic life, which involves a much younger woman determined to bring him into committed bliss. (He's only half averse.) And she too, as it happens, is connected with Sir James Truelove.

This is a scrumptious traditional mystery, involving country knowledge, local wisdom, Joe's ability to suss out who's naughty and nice, and a pervasive strand of long-term evil and manipulation in an otherwise charming locale.
"Someone in the village knows, evidently," said Adelaide. "The knowledge was passed to -- sold to -- Lady Truelove, with awful consequences. Lure swapped for bate? Now that's malice aforethought."

"I'd call it murder," Hunneyton said.

"But murder that's almost impossible to prove," Joe warned. "I hardly like to think why we're even bothering to attempt an inquiry."

He was shot down by two focussed glares.
Some of the best of English folklore and tradition is threaded through this lively mystery, with even an appearance of the powerful and dangerous Green Man of old. Satisfying sorting of a pleasantly complex plot and a set of side characters that come with layers of their own make this one of Cleverly's best. Highly recommended for enjoyable mystery reading -- and, considering the season, it's also a winner on a gift list. Great timing, from Soho Crime.

Brief Mention: Dave Zelterserman, THE BOY WHO KILLED DEMONS; Graham Masterton, BROKEN ANGELS

Dave Zeltserman is a master of dark fiction -- the "noir" -- and his mysteries have powerful ties to Boston's underworld of mobsters and contract killers. His horror fantasy novels, though, come in distinctly different forms. I still haven't shaken the mingled chill and pity that I felt as I finished reading his The Caretaker of Lorne Field in 2010; every time I tangle with an overgrown section of my garden, I feel the nightmare of that story all over again.

This season, Zeltserman's new offering, THE BOY WHO KILLED DEMONS, looks like it might become the first in a series, judging by few threads at the finale. Narrated by 13-year-old Henry Dudlow, it's an investigation of how demons have invaded the world, with ominous intent. And this struggling teen, half smothered by his thoroughly unlikeable parents but lifted out of the mess via friends and his first girlfriend, has a terrible gift and responsibility that have arrived with puberty: He alone, among the people he talks with, can see the demons in their real and menacing form. They're after him, of course. And when he realizes what their goals are, not to mention how they pursue them, he knows he has to stop them.

If you know a teen who's already read a lot of Stephen King, and laps up horror and funky sex as if these were breakfast cereal, you might want to share this book with that teen. Otherwise, keep it for yourself (provided you, too, are a horror fan!) and enjoy the journey back to your own teens, as you keep Henry company.

Because I'm intrigued by the stream of Irish noir flowing across the Atlantic, I tackled the newly released US paperback version of Graham Masterton's BROKEN ANGELS. [This is the second in the series that began with A Terrible Beauty, later retitled White Bones.] Here too, terror and the grotesque are lined up, as Detective Superintendent Katie Maguire in County Cork heads up an investigation into the murder of a priest. The mutilation of the corpse -- well, actually it happened before death -- convinces almost all the detectives that the killing is revenge for child abuse inflicted by the priest, who'd been a target of unpleasant accusations. But as the death count and mutilations mount, Katie becomes convinced there's a larger and even more unpleasant reason for the string of murders.

I won't go into more detail -- partly to avoid spoilers, and partly because there's a lot of mixing of sex and sadistic violence here, some of which is truly horrifying (but no surprise to readers who may already have tracked Masterton's powerful but frightening narratives; he's a well-established author in Europe). This one's not for traditional mystery fans, but only for those who don't suffer nightmares or PTSD or loss of appetite among such horrors. Count on a fast pace, believable twists, and an investigator worth admiring. But also, consider yourself warned.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Debut Mysteries: Scott Graham, CANYON SACRIFICE; Victoria Griffith, AMAZON BURNING

One of my favorite parts of reading a wide range of mysteries is watching for the new authors and their "first books" -- at least, the first in this area. I enjoy speculating on who's going to craft a successful series based on that first public appearance. And when I'm right, it's extra interesting to continue collecting the rest of that author's work, knowing I spotted the first promising book!

Reading CANYON SACRIFICE by Scott Graham was an up-and-down ride. The pace and language do have a bit of that "first appearance" feel to them -- maybe a result of having reworked the story several times over a couple of years? -- and the book's a bit short, skating around some areas that could have had more depth and complexity. I also felt a couple of the plot twists were awkward. But Graham is no stranger to writing about the outdoor life in general (he's already won a National Outdoor Book Award in nonfiction), and this Grand Canyon mystery is a satisfying read. Chuck Bender, an archaeologist with a lot of experience in looking for signs of the earliest Native people in the region, has brought his new and quite impulsively married wife, as well as her two young daughters, to see the canyon and experience some camping as well. But almost immediately, his stepfathering role gets slammed with every parent's nightmare: a missing child. Is it his fault? Can the marriage work, the child be found in time, and can he stay out of legal trouble and deadly risk in the meantime?

Graham and his publisher, Torrey House, promise a series of these books -- "A National Park Mystery" -- and I'm looking forward to them! I'd say this first in the series is a great start, and blurbs from Margaret Coel and William Kent Krueger convince me that Graham's Western tribal knowledge is likely to be sound. Consider the series a cross between Nevada Barr and, ever so slightly, Tony Hillerman; dig in for an enjoyable read.

I'm less sure about the direction that Victoria Griffith is taking, now that I've read her entry into YA mystery-with-sexuality, AMAZON BURNING. This author -- also experienced in nonfiction, with 20-plus years as an international journalist, including in Brazil, where the book is set -- opted to shape a thriller around environmental issues that matter deeply to her. College student and would-be journalist Emma Cohen joins her dad in Brazil and tags along when he makes a trip into the Amazon basin. Leaning for protective backup on a hunky guy also tagging along (as photographer), she follows up on rumors about an animal smuggling ring and gets into serious trouble. In the midst of the jungle, she also tangles with the aforementioned hunk ...

Griffith knows what she's talking about in terms of the environmental and justice issues on her plate. I'm less convinced by her portrayal of steamy sex in the jungle, and I have a problem with her protagonist depending on others to rescue her repeatedly (I think it violates the best rule of today's mysteries, which is, watch the protagonist grow as both person and detective, with muscles if possible). It might still work well enough for inexperienced readers who'll enjoy the story, though. My other issue with the book is that there are so few Brazilian mysteries that comparing it with Leighton Gage's series is inevitable -- but Griffith doesn't provide the depth or the moral ambiguity that Gage did. Still, someone has to tackle the Brazilian mystery area, and it's a good try for a first mystery by this globally highly experienced author. Worth watching to see what comes next! (And check out this interview with the author.)

If you're making a gift list (December is SO conducive to that!), these books will fit best for the reader who's already interested in the location itself, the key to the story's charm for both Graham and Griffith.