Sunday, July 15, 2012

Summer Reading: G. M. Malliet, Bonnie Hearn Hill, Peg Brantley

Right, so maybe these aren't the blockbusters with the big publishing budgets behind them ... but each of these three could take you through a summer weekend, as they have for me. And the three are dramatically different from each other.

G. M. Malliet writes cozy mysteries, but they're not the cat-and-tea typed -- they feature mostly gentle people who are puzzled by the intrusion of crime into their lives. She began with Death of a Cozy Writer (leading off her DCI St Just series), for which she won an Agatha Award (recognizing strong traditional mysteries). I picked up her 2011 book, WICKED AUTUMN (from Minotaur), which starts a different series: Max Tudor, vicar in a small English village, has a past that he's trying to escape. No, it's not an ex-wife or a crime; Max was an agent for MI5, went through a crisis of faith, and came out of it with a calling to lead a rural church. Although he regrets the way he sees criminal actions and the dark side of some humans, he cares intensely about his village of Nether Monkslip and is getting to know the residents more deeply. Their antagonism toward bossy, manipulative Wanda Batton-Smythe bothers him, but he doesn't have the confidence to interfere. Soon enough, he wishes he'd taken action, before a deadly turn of events.

Hints at depth of character for Max and for Awena Owen, "the village's self-proclaimed New-Agey Neopagan, for want of a better description, add a light and pleasant fragrance to the crime-solving, which hinges -- ah, poor Max -- on the grubby and ungrateful side of a couple of characters. The book is a pleasant and engaging read, and garnered a lot of positive attention: recommended on NBC's Today Show, and nominated for yet another Agatha Award (2012).  I look forward to this fall's sequel, A FATAL WINTER. See the author's website,, for more details and a charming picture of Nether Monkslip.

If you're still thinking of Harlequin as only a publisher of steamy (yet straight!) romances, you've missed out on the MIRA side of the publisher -- which brings out a lot of lively thrillers these days. Michelle Gagnon (whose thrillers deserve *lots* more attention) started there; so has Bonnie Hearn Hill, whose political thriller INTERN (2003) cuts a swath between some seedy stories of California's legislators and the disappointing side of former President Bill Clinton. That's right, the "intern" in question is not the hospital type, but the political kind -- extremely pretty April Wayne, intern to politico Eric Barry, and as the book opens, missing and presumed, well, harmed, at least.

Bonnie Hearn Hill provides a page-turner that jets from one voice to another, the senator, his wife, the other women in his life, and some twisted, nasty sorts that you don't want to meet on a dark night (but you know you might, which is why you're carrying pepper spray and took a course in self-defense, right?). I'll be looking for more of this author's thrillers -- you can see the list here, -- but probably won't indulge in her latest novel, which is paranormal romance.

I picked up RED TIDE (April 2012) by Peg Brantley because I recently got acquainted online with the author and wanted to sample her work. The softcover looks like a self-published or print-on-demand item, although it has a publisher, Bark Publishing of Houston, TX. Whether that's actually Brantley herself, I'm not sure -- but RED TIDE is a book where I wished a seasoned editor had put her foot down on the first few chapters, which say "not quite ready for most readers." Fortunately, the pace picks up, the main characters -- "human remains" dog handler Jamie Taylor (I really like her), and FBI Agent Nicholas Grant -- have a good balance of haunted flaws and gutsy strengths, and the plot involves a lot of danger and risk, as well as at least two psychopaths. There's a medical aspect in the murders that's stretched a bit too far, and the inner workings of the criminals are a tad clumsy. But the pace is rapid enough and the twists so interesting that I kept reading, right through, and I'm excited that Brantley is bringing out another thriller this fall. This is the kind of writer who, once firmly in control of how to craft a dark and chilling novel, can surge ahead to very good work indeed.

And you know, one of the big thrills of reading as many mysteries and crime novels as Dave and I do is: We want to spot the early-career writers who are going to give us work that rocks our world.

Later this week, books from Malla Nunn, and a look forward at Michelle Gagnon's powerful "young adult" thriller, DON'T TURN AROUND. Plus a comparison of two very strange items, one from (oh yeah) Dave Zeltserman and the other from Stephen Seitz.

1 comment:

Peg Brantley said...

Thanks for reviewing my first novel. I appreciate the balanced and honest review.