Sunday, September 17, 2017

Powerful Trilogy by Tarn Richardson Concludes -- But Only in the UK So Far

Every now and then, a moment comes along when readers can make a huge difference in getting a good book published. This is one of them -- because the third volume of Tarn Richardson's stunning "The Darkest Hand Trilogy" has been published in the United Kingdom. But not yet in the United States. Overlook, the US publisher for the series, needs to see sales jump for the first and second books, and to hear from readers who want the third one NOW ... instead of in 2018, which is when the title is tentatively pushed back to, in the Overlook Press schedule.

Which of course immediately raises the question, why do you want these powerful World War I crime novels for your shelf, and how will Tarn Richardson's work pull readers into the desperate and dangerous adventures of rogue Catholic inquisitor Poldek Tacit?

Let's back up a bit -- to the three premises of the earlier volumes, The Damned and The Fallen. Poldek Tacit was raised by the Catholic Church to be one of its inquisitors, and that's premise number one: that the most powerful religious structure of modern history, one that still has its own city and its annointed God-listening leader, could have maintained a hidden force to fight evil and the inevitable corruptions of the faith that it brings: the Catholic Inquisition, a corps of dedicated trained experts in exorcising demons, battling Satanic forces, and preventing any earthly appearance of the AntiChrist.

Premise two, which calls for an almost equal suspension of disbelief -- or perhaps more realistically, for accepting an unusual metaphor for what a powerful church might bring into existence -- is that the church Poldek Tacit serves has created a dreadful half-caste of former humans that live in the dark places of the world and take the form of flesh-hungry werewolves. Starved and tormented though these half beasts may be, they still may have human emotions and loyalties. And Poldek finds himself in league with one such werewolf, Sandrine, whose loving loyalty toward a former soldier of the world war brings her into the fight against the surging evil in the world.

Premise three is the most outrageous, but the most compelling, despite its "paranormal" slant: that there might exist with the Catholic Church and among its priests and bishops a corps of power-hungry, devil-eager men, known as The Darkest Hand, determined to bring about the re-emergence of the AntiChrist, and thus the End Days of the World -- and that the otherwise irrational mass carnage taking place in the years of World War I, the Great War, is actually an intentional sacrifice of the innocent and brave, a killing spree intended as a worship effort toward the leader of the forces of evil.

If you've been reading the surging amount of World War I crime fiction (and literary fiction) being published, this leap of metaphor may begin to make astonishing and uncomfortable sense. How could we explain in any rational way how so many nations in Europe plunged into killing so many young men in such horrible ways? The "shell shock" that plagues Charles Todd's detective protagonist Ian Rutledge comes across as a probably very rational reaction to trench warfare, poison gases that made the act of breathing into a short path to death, and gruesome bayoneted killings where people walked or "swam" among body parts and their detritus, struggling to reach safety.

[Spoiler alert] At the end of the second volume, The Fallen, not only have we seen the forces of goodness fail and fall, but dark hero Poldek Tacit himself tumbles from the heights into certain death below -- we stagger with grief, along with his beloved Isabella and his close friends. Although Poldek has his own confusing inner spirits that shout evil to him, his actions are reliably those of a strong warrior for the good, and his loss is terrible.

But readers of the first two volumes won't be surprised when they meet Poldek again in the third, THE RISEN. As with the fall of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, we long to find a loophole to the contract with disaster. And although Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series remains dead in body after the sixth title, he's not the protagonist of the series -- it's Harry who must survive to the next book. Similarly, it's hard to picture a third volume here without Poldek in some form.

But like Graham Greene's whiskey priest, or even Le Carré's George Smiley, there are enormous flaws in Poldek Tacit. And the closer the series gets to an actual rising of the AntiChrist, the louder the invasion of Poldek's soul and mind becomes.

Meanwhile The Darkest Hand assembles its final plan. Javier Adansoni, within the Vatican, defines its reasoning:
"We have done what needed to be done. To persevere. To triumph. Ask yourself, would any other faith not do as we have done to ensure its continuance? Are we so different from other religions who try to enforce their creed upon others? No! We are simply better prepared and better provisioned for the task."
The group's members explain to each other how they have trapped and tormented Poldek Tacit over the years -- although they don't at first realize he may have survived their attacks.

Meanwhile, Tacit's re-entry into his own small counterattacking force of four people -- Tacit, Isabella, Sandrine, and Henry -- breathes some hope back into their effort. But first they need to figure out what the other forces in play are up to, especially those of the priest-turned-wolf Poré, who appears to be on the side of the Darkest Hand in some confusing way. Poldek Tacit begins to wrestle with the details:
But all he could say was, "I need more to go on. More than Seven Archangels!" And then he paused and said, "Unless ..."

"Unless what?" asked Henry, sitting forward, his eyebrows arched. He recognised the keen light in Tacit's dark eyes, a look always adopted when the Inquisitor had discovered a vital clue. He was pleased to see it. It meant that this feral distant man, the one who seemed so remote and indifferent to all they had told him, was now snagged by its mystery.
From here, THE RISEN becomes a race against the clock and against the forces of The Darkest Hand, as the team presses all its resources -- and recruits a few more -- into stopping the rituals and slaughter that are swiftly opening a portal to the End Times of the world.

The final stunning twist to the actions of evil makes a bitter sense out of another terrible aspect of the years 1917 and 1918. But for that, you'll need to read THE RISEN, which ends with an author note reminding us that "World War One was responsible for the deaths of 10,000,000 soldiers and 7,000,000 civilians and achieved no tangible benefits to mankind other than in the science of medicine. It resulted in the annihilation of an entire generation of young men, bankrupted nations ... eventually dragged the world into a second world war."

Is it outrageous to apply this to the times in which we live today? I think the fit is frightening, as our nation jockeys for dominance with another nuclear power, wrestles with the costs and pain of diversity, struggles to assert moral value during terrible choices. Tarn Richardson's series is a darned good read, jammed with suspense and the efforts that are required to remain humane during dark times. It is, painfully, more than fiction, I fear.

Now, to circle back to where this began: To get your third volume, THE RISEN, you have several options. You can, of course, spend extra funds to import a British copy. Or you can take direct action here: Make sure you've purchased -- and that Overlook knows you have -- the first two volumes of the trilogy. Then tell the publisher you want the third volume, THE RISEN, as soon as possible. Here's an e-mail for the press:

The Overlook website is and its Facebook page is here

Let's see what we can do to move THE RISEN onto US bookstore shelves -- and our own.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Newly Released Father Anselm Mystery, A WHISPERED NAME, William Brodrick

Who are your favorite British mystery authors? Most readers will have one or two they quickly name. American readers may not yet have William Brodrick on their "short list" -- yet he won the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger award in 2009 for his novel A Whispered Name and is noted for his Father Anselm series, in which a monk with a past as a lawyer (barrister in England) is sent by the Prior of Larkwood Priory to sort out crises that blend both crime and conscience.

 British readers, clearly, have already had access to A WHISPERED NAME -- now, thanks to Overlook Press, this title just arrived for U.S. access, released this week. If you haven't yet read one of the other Brodrick "amateur sleuth" novels featuring this Augustinian friar, it's still easy to slide into A WHISPERED NAME. Brodrick swiftly sketches in the boundaries and blessings of life at the Priory, including the unexpected assignment that Anselm has for working with beehives ... and then the inevitable out-of-Priory mission he gets, to resolve the blowback from a court martial that took place a generation earlier, in France.

In the process, Brodrick paints the grim reality of young, unformed men attempting to obey orders and fight what seems an endlessly losing battle across what was once a kind and cultured landscape. The particularly delicious twist to the plot here is that one of the priory's founding fathers, Herbert Moore, appears to have some responsibility for a wrongful death -- or at least one that should not have been allowed -- from a firing squad.

Brodrick reveals what took place through two timelines: Anselm's as he pursues the mostly hidden history and secrets of the long-ago court martial (some nice archival work here to admire, as well as emotional insight), and Herbert's as a young officer not skilled in reading the subtext of the court martial and plunged into agony by trying to do "the next right thing."

I found the narration a bit uneven at first -- as I felt with another Brodrick book, this seemed somewhat over-revised in early chapters -- but once the story began to flow, I was entranced, and by the ending, felt both satisfied and uplifted in a way that mystery novels rarely provide. 

A note for readers who've explored Chesterton's Father Brown mystery stories: Brodrick's Father Anselm is far more sophisticated than Father Brown, in ways of the world, issues of law, and the emotional and moral changes a person goes through in the processes of maturing and making a commitment to living in a dedicated community.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.


The Horror of Bullying, Violent Crime, in a Page-Turner from Eric Rickstad, THE NAMES OF DEAD GIRLS

As I write this, the final episode of a serial drama on the Unabomber, a mail-using terrorist whose bombs murdered innocent unconnected people over two decades, has just aired. It's clear that there are humans -- shudder -- who will use any means to exert power over others, whether to make a point or to watch the effects of threat, torture, and death on others. Crime fiction, I think, helps us to box this into a "story" so that we can set the knowledge aside and go on with our lives.

Into this comes this week's hot release, THE NAMES OF DEAD GIRLS, from Eric Rickstad. This award-winning author who lives in Vermont mines the forms of terror that can occur in small rural communities, weaving them across the lives of people who care deeply about keeping each other safe ... in this case, Detective Frank Rath, his colleague Detective Sonja Test, and Frank's niece, long his adopted daughter, Rachel. The release from prison of the murderer who killed Rachel's parents triggers a situation of danger and threat for Frank and Rachel, and only proof of the violent psychopath's continued crimes will gain any kind of peace of mind or safety for these valued members of their community.

Rickstad is a flawless storyteller and an expert at raising suspense through small images, sudden plot twists, and believable crises. In THE NAMES OF DEAD GIRLS another powerful thread is Rachel's now-adult awareness of what happened to her parents, as she obtains access to the file on their murders:
The profound and profane violence did not crush Rachel; the photo of her parents alive, beaming, coddling their swaddled baby between them, did. They were radiant. They were young. Scarcely older than Rachel. In their twenties.

Rachel forced herself to memorize the photos ... The images would never let her forget.
Macabre and slow revelations pile up for the characters that Rickstad paints so well. By the time the book's speeding toward its dark conclusion, there's no putting it down. Keep in mind, this is a sequel to The Silent Girls and the e-release Lie in Wait; also, a reminder for Vermont-familiar readers -- the place names are sort of random, not connected geographically with the actual named locations in Vermont, although heavily based on the Northeast Kingdom.

Don't miss the Author Note on this one -- because Rickstad reveals what started him on this track, with images I may never be able to forget, either.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Noir Crime Fiction from Tod Goldberg, GANGSTER NATION

I've always been tickled by those stories of really terrible criminals who set aside one part of their life in which to be nice -- even, to be generous, kind, loving. In some versions, I can hope the "good" part will gradually leach into the awful part and transform someone. Certainly that was one idea about Whitey Bulger during the long hunt for him and the discovery that he'd been living as someone's almost unnoticeable husband in a small ordinary-seeming retirement world. Real life, though, proved he hadn't changed underneath: still the brutal criminal who had no hesitation about killing, maiming, violating the social contract in the most violent ways.

Enter Rabbi David Cohen in GANGSTER NATION, the eagerly awaited sequel to Gangsterland by Tod Goldberg. There's no secret for readers about Rabbi David Cohen's original identity: He's a Chicago hitman named Sal Cupertine, who made one of the great escapes from capture, through plastic surgery and into a new life. Tenderly, Goldberg reveals the rabbi's attachment to his new life of attending committee meetings, listening to marriage problems, escorting families through their teen's bnei mitzvah processes and ceremonies. As he reflects on how uncomfortable he feels about solemnizing a marriage -- knowing that if his identity ever comes to light again, the married couple will feel unmarried and even besmirched -- it's tempting to wonder whether Sal has actually transformed, changed into a new person inside as well as outside.

Stop right there. Consider how this rabbi figures out how to get "Temple Beth Israel" through a tight funding period:
If someone missed two [tuition] payments, the Temple would start getting liens right away, none of that Fair Debt Reporting crap, the Temple getting every family to sign contracts allowing property liens, never mind the public shame aspect. Worst case scenario, David figured if someone had to accidentally get electrocuted at home to get their life insurance to pay the debt, well, then he'd go and f*** with their pool light. It hadn't come to that, thankfully, because the nice thing was that everyone was rich as f*** these days.
Count on a dark ride through this lively page-turner, and expect more than the usual share of violence (although not especially gory and without kiddie porn, thank goodness). Obviously there are plenty of grim chuckles too (especially if you've been part of an organized religion scenario), and a few heart-jerking moments of family love, distorted of course by gangster ethics.

Just released by Counterpoint, tightly written, and a good one to add to your noir shelf -- as well as any collection that favors Chicago or Las Vegas or Jewish dark fiction.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

New Mystery Series from Denise Swanson Starts with DEAD IN THE WATER

After 19 mysteries set in the fictional Illinois town of Scumble River, author Denise Swanson has started a new series (her third! and that's not counting her romances), "Welcome Back to Scumble River." A short author note to the first book in this new series, DEAD IN THE WATER, explains Swanson's reboot, in which she's moved her timeline to "now" and updated her protagonists, school psychologist Skye Denison-Boyd and her husband Wally Boyd, police chief of the bustling little town.

DEAD IN THE WATER opens with Skye very, very pregnant, and a storm arriving -- one that includes enough tornadoes to affect one-third of the state and, in its up close and personal form, to smash Skye and Wally's house (oh no, the nursery that's never even been used yet!). That's a lot of pressure for the couple. But Swanson is a pro at ramping up the stress and suspense, and soon there's much more to cope with beyond power outages and a vanished home: a Big Issue in Skye's pregnancy, a dead town councilman in the midst of tornado damage and flooding, and -- gulp -- a kidnapping.

I won't say more than that, for fear of giving away some of the twists that Swanson uses so cleverly. But one of the niftiest aspects of this "traditional" mystery (it's not really a cozy!) is who's doing the sleuthing: not Wally, but Skye herself. Swanson's deft storytelling includes plenty of complications from the couple's close relatives and extended family, as well as some humorous portraits of the less likeable characters in town. (Skye is not feeling very pacifistic as her pregnancy speeds along, so they'd better stay out of her way!)

Brace for a wild ride, a lot of fun, and adventures that are risky and intense (but not at that scary disturbed sort of level that makes you double-check that the front door's locked -- thank goodness!).

Long-time fans of Swanson's books will feel the love in every chapter, and their past experience with Scumble River will add to the details -- but for newcomers, there's plenty of detail to invite you in and have you feeling at home. This is a warm and entertaining mystery, lively and colorful, and perfect for weekend relaxing, but of course, not a very appropriate gift for friends going through hurricanes this season. Sigh. Stay safe, y'all. (Published by Sourcebooks Landmark.)

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Crime Among the Magicians, in THE BLOOD CARD from Elly Griffiths

US cover
British author Elly Griffiths provides two entirely, vastly different series of crime fiction -- and whichever series I happen to be reading becomes the best at that moment for me! This skillful storyteller gets under the skin of her characters -- whether crime solvers, victims, or criminals -- and brings me directly into the scene, eager to explore and to test my own "readerly" sleuthing as the plot twist and the characters reveal themselves in good and evil.

Griffiths reaches number three in her "Magic Men Mysteries" with THE BLOOD CARD, released in America a few days ago. This satisfying "traditional mystery" series began with a set of World War II veterans whose connections to each other involved building a deceptive front to deter a Nazi attack during the war -- a group called the Magic Men for their work with illusion at that time -- and takes them into the strange postwar years of 1950s Britain, when bombed-out buildings filled the cities, food rationing continued for far longer than Americans might have guessed, and a shattered and shell-shocked nation began to rebuild.

In the Magic Men series, postwar rebuilding involves both returns to careers of "before," as master illusionist Max Mephisto has done in the music halls and other gritty urban venues around him, and attempts to carve out new paths forward: like Detective Inspector (DI) Edgar Stephens, who's hoping to soon marry Max Mephisto's recently discovered daughter, another illusionist or, as Americans are more likely to say, magician.

THE BLOOD CARD opens in 1953, with the English excitedly preparing for the royal coronation of Elizabeth II (yes, her reign began in '52, but the coronation came later). There will be a public holiday, mass gatherings, and -- most strangely for Max to contemplate -- people will watch the event on their new parlor devices called televisions.

To Max's amazement, his almost dying stage career suddenly gets a boost from an invitation to perform in a televised event as part of the coronation festivities. (It's his daughter Ruby who's suggested him for the show, a rather humbling situation.) Meanwhile DI Edgar Stephens can't pay much attention to his old friend Max, because he has the death of a local fortuneteller on his hands -- a death that's looking like murder, but very hard to investigate due to the closed community of Gypsy background to which the dead woman belonged.
UK cover

When Edgar's investigation doubles and crosses into Max's circle of stage illusionists, mesmerists, and such, there are startling common elements -- including the presence of a playing card known to magicians as the "blood card" (the ace of hearts) and a playbill for a stage performance from years ago -- the crime investigation takes on national importance. After all, the circumstances suggest a possible terrorist attack to coincide with the royal coronation!

Griffiths deftly raises little-known details of the performing world and England's postwar recovery, as well as the stresses of her characters, from Edgar's premarital strains to Max's struggles with aging in a young person's field, and to the heartache of one of Edgar's constables, Emma. Not everything will be resolved, either -- as the fortunetelling family in the book's foreground, the Zabini clan, could have told us from the start.

Grab a copy for the pleasure of reading a traditional British mystery with highly memorable characters, paced impeccably as Griffiths once again demonstrates crime-solving storytelling at its smoothest and best. Highly collectible -- you may in fact want both series, and thank goodness, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has brought them across "The Pond."

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

World War II Detective Fiction from James R. Benn, THE DEVOURING

With each new Billy Boyle crime novel from James R. Benn, I wonder again: How will this author maintain suspense, and surprise the readers, when "everybody knows" how World War II began, continued, and ended? Aren't the facts so plentiful that the fiction can't be a wild ride, if it's true to the history as well?

And each time I pick up a new Billy Boyle, I confirm all over again: There's a lot more to even this relatively recent global conflict than most of us realize. In Benn's hands, the surprising details take on new life. And the plot twists? Complex, and intriguing.

In THE DEVOURING, Benn sends Captain Billy Boyle and his friend Kaz into supposedly neutral Switzerland in the final year of World War II, as the Allies are becoming sure of eventually winning the war. But as Billy and Kaz learn, winning won't be as sweet if the Nazi leaders manage to escape justice -- and carry off their murder-related loot in the process.

What are a Boston-born Irish cop and a Polish baron doing in a shepherd's abandoned cottage in southeastern France? The short answer is, wartime makes strange companions. Readers of this series know the intricacies of Billy's recruitment by General Eisenhower to be the crime-solving part of the American leadership's staff, and of the tragic murders of Kaz's family members and the various twists that brought these two men together (including the women they love). Enjoying the first 11 books will certainly add depth and perspective to reading THE DEVOURING, but Benn's a strong enough storyteller that newcomers to the series will be able to step right into the action. Here's Billy Boyle's explanation of the situation as the book opens, for him and Kaz:
Last night we'd had a rendezvous with an SOE Lysander. Special Operations Executive, that is. Lysanders are SOE's preferred means to ferry agents in and out of occupied France. We'd expected to be taken back to London after our last assignment, but someone had a better idea: send the two of us to the Swiss border, smuggle us across, and then have us make contact with the OSS, a different group of highly dangerous letters. The Office of Strategic Services was an American outfit, modeled after the SOE Why they wanted us in neutral Switzerland, I had no clue, but I did have hopes it would be a rest cure in a peaceful nation.
Well, scratch those hopes. Not only will the border crossing be much more risky than Billy and Kaz expected, but the neutral Swiss turn out to be well enmeshed with a lot of German officers hanging around, and the mission turns out to involve tracking some of those in a very dangerous way.

The intriguing aspect that separates Benn's World War II fiction from many another war tale is Billy Boyle's detective skills, with the expectation that he'll solve crimes along the way. Consider Billy's approach to a murder that affects their mission:
Kaz went to find the inspector, and I stood still, studying the room, trying to get a read on what had happened here. [The victim] was the one who wanted to leave the reception first. Now it was evident why. Maybe his date was already here, waiting. They drink some wine, do some cavorting, and then what? Sleep? Or does she go home? I couldn't really find a decent hiding place, not one that would have stood up to the concerted search that had gone on here.

Or maybe the dame was part of the setup.
The book's title comes from a Gypsy, or Sinti, expression for how the Nazi forces were eradicating this relatively landless people of Europe before and during the war, and Billy and Kaz find themselves repeatedly depending on the skills of a very angry and desolate member of that group, Anton Lasho. Will Lasho's anger and recklessness be assets to the mission -- or put the investigators at deadly risk themselves?

Benn adds an espionage-related "dame" to the complex plot, as well as a heartbreaking visit to a prisoner camp in "neutral" Switzerland. Not everything will be resolved by the end of the book -- but that's part of the structure of an effective series, isn't it? I could hardly wait for THE DEVOURING to become available (it hits the stores on Sept. 12 and can be pre-ordered). Count me as a fan of this series for its friendships, quirks of personality, unusual details about the war, and of course the pursuit of crime-solving throughout. I'm in no hurry for the fictional war years to reach an end!

From Soho Crime (Soho Press), as are the other 11 in the series -- and at the moment, the publisher is offering 40% off when ordering those entire 11:


PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Ghana Crime Fiction from Kwei Quartey, DEATH BY HIS GRACE

As crime fiction author Kwei Quartey continues to develop his investigative protagonist, Chief Inspector Darko Dawson of the Ghanaian federal police, his writing is growing more intense, more focused, more compelling. You might be the first in your circle of friends to read him -- even though he's already been on the Los Angeles Times Bestseller list -- but my experience is, there are a LOT of people I'd like to give his books to, right away. Could there be any better measure of a crime novel?

First, here's a capsule summary of Quartey himself: "Kwei Quartey writes early in the morning before setting out to work at HealthCare Partners, where he runs a wound care clinic and is the lead physician at an urgent care center."

Right? Also, as Quartey's author website mentions, he makes sure to experience for himself the events he'll be describing. For one of his Darko Dawson books, that meant that he "underwent training to enable him to travel on a chopper taking oil workers from shore to the deep-sea rig, which occurs in the story. The training includes how to escape from a helicopter that has crashed in the ocean."

Here at Kingdom Books, Quartey's work (via Soho Crime) has been well liked in the past (reviews here). But DEATH BY HIS GRACE takes the narrative to a more polished level; asks deeper questions (like, how do you compare suspicion of local witchcraft, with manipulation in a big church congregation); and positions Darko Dawson to grow as an investigator who can step beyond his comfort level to see what's motivating the crimes in front of him.

At the heart of the story is a marriage made by a relative of Darko's wife Christine: one in which the new bride isn't getting pregnant on schedule, and the in-laws launch an attack on the marriage on grounds of witchcraft. The bride's side of the conflict involves a minister of a "superchurch" (the kind with huge crowds and management teams). When the conflict turns violent, then deadly, the obvious suspect is of course a spouse -- but what if the extended family members committed the actual crime? Or simply incited it, out of envy and malice?

Further, does the family connection mean Darko shouldn't even be involved here?
Darko was experiencing conflict. Typically, he would have allowed the cumbersome CID machinery to determine how a homicide would be assigned, but this time the murder victim was a family member. Should he lobby to be the chief investigator? The answer wasn't that clear-cut for Darko.
And the situation gets even more complicated when Darko's mother-in-law, always ready to judge him as deficient, demands that he take the case.

Quartey's storytelling has the feel of translated work, even though he's clearly embedded in American culture himself; the slight tilt of the words (more direct narrative, and a quicker pace as a result) gives the book the feel of being "told" by a Ghanaian voice, adding to the experience of exploring this African nation via the experience and views of the characters. Highly recommended -- and published by Soho Crime, at the peak of international crime fiction.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Brief Mention, John Le Carré, A LEGACY OF SPIES

British cover
Lovers of British espionage know about each new John Le Carré book long before publication. So this brief note, a few days after the American release of the newest from this master of character-focused revelation, is more or less a bookmark ... and a reminder that if you're a fan of the genre or this author, it's time to pick up your first printing.

Word on A LEGACY OF SPIES before publication tended to focus on either the "follows The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" or the presence as main protagonist of Peter Guillam, long-time loyal team member for British chief of the global espionage network George Smiley. Smiley's position as reluctant but ever-caring planner of spy take-downs and infiltrations has been so large in Le Carré's work that one of the titles in the series is Smiley's People. It is, in fact, George Smiley's grasp of human love and beliefs that makes him such an expert in planning operations. But that same affection and respect for the people he maneuvers makes George vulnerable and wounded, in ways that compel affection from his staff members -- and from many a reader.

In fact, A LEGACY OF SPIES is both a follow-up to the tragedy of Alec Leamas, and an exploration of Guillam's position in retirement, which he spends -- when possible -- on his family's old farmland in French Brittany. Most of all, it's a probing test of how Guillam functions without Smiley's presence. Has he been deserted, left alone to face accusations about Leamas's long-ago betrayal and death, and possibly a high-stakes trial? How does he judge his own actions of the past -- which include many a liaison of the heart?

US cover
Le Carré engages in a book-long probe of the family dynamics of his extended spy network, testing and revisiting its connections and emotional costs. Much of the first part of the book is slow going, especially because it's framed in Peter Guillam's first-person voice, which doesn't work quite as well as the haunting third-person novels earlier in this oeuvre. But for any fan of George Smiley's fictional life and career, the book is a must-read ... with the added reward of some final words on where "England" was and is, and a little bit of grounding for today's British choices. At least, as far as these characters may see.

Worth the time spent reading it, and worth keeping on the shelf.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Experimental Crime Fiction? Postmodern! CROSSING THE LINES, Sulari Gentill

Poisoned Pen Press just brought out a very new genre from long-time author Sulari Gentill, better known for her historical Australian crime fiction. This time she's gone "postmodern," letting her characters make up the author and the book -- and the crime -- as she goes along.

In CROSSING THE LINES, the "author" Madeleine becomes enamored of her creation, Edward, whose life soon includes a murder. When Madeleine begins to care more about Edward than about her own husband Hugh, secrets multiply in the stress fractures of their fictional and metafictional lives.

Poisoned Pen recommends this for fans of Paul Auster, Jesse Kellerman, Vera Caspary's Laura, and Haruki Murakami. What a combination! I certainly felt the parallel to Murakami, and the way that postmodern writing can turn a reader's thinking into odd new shapes.

I'd say this one isn't for "beginners" in this form of writing. If you're already drawn to some writing among this list of authors, though -- dip in. There's a lot of entertainment here, as well as some very clever and unusual twists.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Noir That Lingers, in A DARK AND BROKEN HEART, R. J. Ellory

British author R. J. Ellory wins long-term fans for his dark crime fiction through his characters -- mostly men, whose shadowed lives are twisted, bitter, yet somehow vulnerable. A DARK AND BROKEN HEART is already a classic of his work -- and it just arrived for American readers through Overlook Press.

What's with Detective Vincent Madigan, anyway? Doesn't he know crime won't pay, after being a cop for so long? Actually that seems to be the opposite of what he's learned with the NYPD and the corruption surrounding him. His own struggles have put him deep into debt to both a bookie and drug lord and to his lawyer (it all makes bitter sense). Not to mention alimony. And underneath all of Madigan's horror at the tangled mess of his life is a small, persistent hope: that somehow, some day, he can do something that will delight his teenage daughter and hear her speak his name with happiness and excitement.

That's the dreamy and tender kernel to the man that can make this worth reading, through violent scenes of desperate efforts gone wrong. Even Madigan knows his plan of using three career criminals to help him steal that drug lord's cash delivery is way too risky. He can picture what Sandia, the crime boss, would say after catching Madigan in the act:
You killed my people and you stole my money to pay your debt to me. You paid me back with my own money. And don't insult me by telling me you didn't. Tell me the truth and I'll kill you quickly. Lie to me and I will have someone torture you for a month.
As Madigan assessed the situation, "This was what he had. It didn't get much worse than this."

But it can indeed get worse, and does. Buckle up for more than 300 pages of bad decisions and bloody consequences. If you stick with it -- and readers who already like Dave Zeltserman's crime fiction and the deep gritty noir that Overlook is so skilled at finding will indeed be hooked -- don't count on a happy ending. Madigan may expect it (that's why readers hang with him), but he's been wrong so often that the finale is bittersweet, but not exactly unexpected -- unless, of course, you are the often high, always scheming, ever hoping Madigan himself.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Humor, Paranormal, but Solid Investigation, with Dr. Siri Paiboun in Colin Cotterill's THE RAT CATCHERS' OLYMPICS

A new mystery in the Laotian Dr. Siri Paiboun series from Colin Cotterill (Soho Crime) is always worth celebrating -- and THE RAT CATCHERS' OLYMPICS is worth stopping all work and just plain enjoying the ride.

Actually Dr. Siri, who's been a coroner for his country in the frustrating 1970s, is now retired. But in this 12th in the series, Siri and his wife Daeng figure out how to join their politically connected friend Civilai on an exciting trip to Moscow with the athletes from Laos who are competing in the 1980 Olympics. That's the year that the United States and 64 other countries boycotted the summer games (a protest of Russian's presence in Afghanistan at the time). So Cotterill cleverly sets up the competition as a smaller-than-usual set of games that can let even the poorly trained and mostly unfinanced Lao team still show up well and have a great time.

But before the athletes -- and Siri, Daeng, Civilai, and their friend and nurse Dtui -- have left the ground in their rickety airplane, an unusual change in the passengers takes place, and Civilai realizes there's been a last-minute, unacknowledged substitution among the competing sharpshooters. Soon the friend decides they've witnessed the start of a major crime, to take place in Moscow. The fifth of their usual group, Inspector Phosy, left behind in Laos, tackles the groundwork to figure out what's planned. When Phosy's hoped-for informant is immediately murdered, the team knows they are all in danger. And the planned international crime is deadly serious.

But that's really the only serious part of this delicious and enjoyable romp through Moscow's hospitality in THE RAT CATCHERS' OLYMPICS. From Dr. Siri's own tendency to abruptly vanish into a land of spirits, to his wife's wagging tail (a long story!), to the love affairs of the athletes, and at last to the rat-catching competition impulsively added to the games, this is a page-turner of the best sort: full of characters worth caring about, a plot with just enough twists, and lots of joy. But it's also crammed with investigative efforts and speculation. For example, when the Moscow-placed suspect disappears:
"He might have gone for a jog," said Dtui.

"Or a walk on the roof," said Daeng. "Insomnia."

"Or he might be out casing the scene of the shooting," said Siri.

"Or actually committing the crime," said Civilai, still feeling guilty for his failure.

The four were seated in the B block cafeteria with stodgy Soviet breakfasts in front of them. Two tables away sat the shooting team with Sompoo in the middle telling jokes.

"This really is a fine time for an assassination, you have to admit," said Siri. "The local TV stations have nothing but Olympic news and smiling citizen interviews. I can't even imagine a murder report finding its way into the newspapers for the next three weeks."
Whether you're fitting in a bit more summer reading, or adding to your admirable shelf of Soho Crime international mysteries, THE RAT CATCHERS' OLYMPICS will reward your purchase. Might as well get one for a friend, too ... I'm already listing the people in my life who deserve this sweet reward.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Second NYC Historical Crime Fiction from Cuyler Overholt, A PROMISE OF RUIN

Ah, the delight of discovering in the first chapter that a book's been written by a gifted storyteller!

From the moment Dr. Genevieve Summerford -- Genna to her friends -- steps onto the scene in A PROMISE OF RUIN, the suspense and surprises of this 1907 amateur sleuth novel are both entrancing and intriguing. Entrancing, because Genna and her would-be beloved, Simon Shaw, share a passion for life and romance that can't be defeated. And intriguing, because there are so many aspects of criminal conspiracy that we've forgotten from this era ... and author Cuyler Overholt, in her second in this series, tugs them seamlessly into a neatly turned plot with just the right amount of risk and rescue for summer reading.

A young Italian bride-to-be has disappeared from New York's arrival area, where huge ships bring a flood of immigrants. When the disappearance comes to Genna's attention, she's sure the police will follow up -- and when she realizes they won't, she tries to do what's reasonable and kind in letting others know about the missing young woman. Harsh realities that she hasn't confronted before, like the overworked police force and the power of criminal elements, result in Gemma committing herself to the very risky process of trying to locate who is running a prostitution ring with a kidnap operation on the side, and how to locate the most recently captured group of girls. In other words, Genna is seeking out a "white slaver" ring, at the risk of her own comfort, safety, and perhaps the relationship that's already at the core of her life.

Overholt introduces early 20th-century Manhattan life skillfully and with flair. Her deft portrayals of city gang life and the cost of poverty are so lively and complex that I paused a couple of times to check the facts, wondering whether this author had created her own aspects to support the plot -- but indeed, she has rounded up and dealt back out again the most fascinating aspects of the immigrant gangs and local resistance, as well as the complications of the Tammany political machine. Then she adds resonance to the action with insight that Genna gains from early understandings of mental illness, applying her healing skills to both the boys at a community center, and the damaged women rescued from the forced sex trade.

To do all this and wrap it briskly around a neatly turned plot with clever twists and heart-warming interactions is quite an achievement! A PROMISE OF RUIN was such a pleasure to read that I'll soon be looking for more of Overholt's writing. And I am delighted that Sourcebooks has clearly scheduled this to be a continuing series of crime-solving adventure. If you can't fit the book into what's left of summer, give it to your bedside TBR stack, to warm the chilly evenings ahead.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

New from Jon Land, Paranormal Series Debut, DARK LIGHT: DAWN

Graphic violence alert!

With his second book this summer, Jon Land opens a testosterone-filled series of adventure and saving a threatened world, in DARK LIGHT: DAWN. The book opens the "Maximillian Chronicles," jumping sideways into the life of Navy SEAL Max Youngner, who stumbles across details that shed light on his father's mysterious death.

Max loves his career -- nothing like a life-and-death battle to make him feel alive:
"Take that, you f***er!!"

Did he say that or only think it? Impossible to say amid the firestorm raging around him. But he did know he felt buoyant, even joyful, strangely at home in this conflagration of violence he found himself embracing. The blood soaking him smelled sweet and coppery, suddenly not altogether unpleasant, even welcome, as he twisted away from the fighter's still convulsing form, finally slamming another fresh magazine home.
Fear not -- Max has doubts, and the very creepy revelations he confronts about a meteor, underground currents of darkness, and how his father's life became forfeit, well, those are just what he needs to shake his own life off one set of rails and direct it into deeper, more deliberate efforts.

Meanwhile, there's an epidemic possible, and Dr. Victoria Tanoury needs to deal with it. She's grateful for any and all help coming her way -- including the apparent messages from her dead fiancé, still taking care of her. When her dangerous situation and Max's crisis overlap, the two head into an equally risky re-lighting of a long-ago passion they once shared.

Rattled off in short chapters of just a few pages, this End of Days epic continues for more than 400 pages, bouncing between plot threads and crises. It's a great summer adventure for those who especially enjoy military combat novels and Dan Brown-style epic battles, including for the soul and the heart. Land, with Maximillian "brand" originator Fabrizio Boccardi, keeps the action explosive. It's quite a shift from his Caitlin Strong series, but very close to the Tyrant books he's crafted.

This is genre fiction with a specific tilt, both military and paranormal. If that's the combo you're ready for, settle in for a page-turning week of mind-blowing twists and classic characters.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Crime Fiction in Venice, from Christine Evelyn Volker, VENETIAN BLOOD

You love the Venice crime fiction from Donna Leon? I do. Not only do her books carefully compose clues, stresses, red herrings, and police procedure (plus Italian and Venetian culture and cuisine), but the interactions among the characters -- especially Commissario Guido Brunetti and his family -- deepen the books and their impact. I often pre-order my copies of each new title.

That said, there's generally just one new Donna Leon per year. So to get an extra dash of Venice, one may indulge in less skilled authors who still have a good mystery to offer. And that's the case for Christine Evelyn Volker, whose VENETIAN BLOOD is released in August from She Writes Press.

Volker's mystery shows the signs of an early-career author, especially in the first few chapters. But it gets better, and I enjoyed the final twists, which involve financial dirty dealings and affaires of the heart and body. Plus, the book helped meet that Venice appetite. But don't count on cuisine, or depth of relationships -- Volker's catalyst for relationships tends to be romantic attraction, versus the lines of faith, loyalty, and compassion that Leon lays out so strongly.

Also, for a collector, there are some questions about books from She Writes Press, which occupies the murky middle ground between standard publishers and what used to be called vanity presses. The press president, Brooke Warner, is a regular writer for Huffington Post; see her explanation there, of her press's new arrangement, where established authors mentor new ones, included in the fee. 

In the case of VENETIAN BLOOD were Nina Schuyler and David Corbett. Yes, that's enough to make me sit up and notice.

So should you collect this and/or, more pertinently, pick up a copy to read? My opinion: Yes, if you specifically collect Italian crime fiction. No, if you're going to measure the book against Donna Leon and others at the top of the field. Hope that's enough to help you make a decision. I ended up pleased with the book's plot by the end, but it was rough to get to the middle.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Gibraltar Crime Fiction, A THOUSAND CUTS, Thomas Mogford

One of the heady pleasures of international crime fiction is exploring a culture from the inside -- including the lingering effects, often dark, of a region's history. So the newest crime novel from British author Thomas Mogford, A THOUSAND CUTS, fascinated me with its setting: Gibraltar, that rocky headland off Spain's southern coast. Not only is the "Rock" a sentry location for the Mediterranean: It provides the remains of a 14th-century Moorish castle and the 18th century Great Siege Tunnels, which were expanded in World War II.

 We readers realize from Chapter 1's placement in 1940 that a deadly wartime explosion at Gibraltar's shipyard could be more complicated than the investigators would realize. But we're swiftly back in the present time with lawyer Spike Sanguinetti (this is the fifth in his series), abruptly taking on a new client. Is the angry and booze-addicted old man just a typical confused remnant from Gibraltar's underclasses, former sailors and soldiers who collapsed in place and never left? Or is there a more pointed reason that this client has harassed a wealthy resident?

Spike Sanguinetti is a fascinating character, not least for his sympathy for his mostly unlikeable new client. He's tangled in the case in more directions than he at first realizes -- understandable that he's a bit distracted, since he and his financée are expecting a baby very soon, their adopted child is having "issues," and the close friends on Gibraltar who usually support him have a stake in seeing the client's past hushed up, and the series of crimes on the headland closed quickly.

From the tunnels to the action to the emotions, not to mention the wartime suspicions that emerge during Spike's efforts, this book is a classic page-turner, rich with atmosphere and urgent with action and risk. It's my first read in the series and I found gaps in understanding some of the terrain, so given the option, I'd explore the earlier books first, before reaching this one. But even as a cold read, stepping onto Gilbraltar in Mogford's series, it's a marvelous addition to the summer reading stack -- recommended, for sure! (Note that Mogford is getting great critical attention in Britain, where he made a CWA short list for the debut of this series.) Glad that Bloomsbury brought the book across the Atlantic, released this week in the US.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Gritty Alternative to Sherlock Holmes, in ARROWOOD by Mick Finlay

Today's the release day for ARROWOOD, a debut crime novel from Mick Finlay. The publisher (Mira) captured the book's premise in this tag line: "London Society takes its problems to Sherlock Holmes. Everyone else goes to Arrowood."

It's a great way to enter the Holmes world without trying to craft yet another pastiche. Consider William Arrowood a rough character himself, a former newspaper man whose scorn for the chronicled super-deductive high-society sleuth peppers his conversations -- and determines his attitude toward people in his South London slum who seek his help. If they reveal they wish they could afford Holmes instead, they're in trouble!

The opening of the book, described as "South London, 1895," sets the scene perfectly, from the point of view of Arrowood's assistant, Mr. Barnett:
The very moment I walked in that morning I could see the guvnor was in one of his tempers. His face was livid, his eyes puffy, his hair, least what remained on that scarred knuckle of a head, stuck out over one ear and lay flat with grease on the other side. He was an ugly sight, all right. I lingered by the door in case he threw his kettle at me again. Even from there I could smell the overnight stink of gin on his foul breath.

"Sherlock blooming Holmes!" he bellowed, slamming his fist down on the side-table. "Everywhere I look they're talking about that charlatan!"
When a young French lady in a bonnet and billowing skirt arrives to see Arrowood's help, it takes all of Barnett's skill to keep her case attractive to his "guvnor." She risks losing the sleuth by her admiration for Holmes, of course, and also be being French ... and female. But Barnett has the bottom line in mind, and negotiates a case.

When it becomes obvious that Arrowood and Barnett will have to spy on and probably confront members of a dangerous criminal gang that's already threatened their lives, the crime novel turns into a Victorian thriller, hot with action and risk.

The book's well written, with just a hint of "debut" novel in its pacing. Most appealing is actually the character of Arrowood's sidekick Barnett (a more emotionally complicated person than Doyle's Dr. Watson). Details of gritty and sometimes grotesque Victorian poverty come through, along with a finely honed edge of violence.

Mick Finlay has an unusual background for this field, one that may bear significant importance as the promised series continues:
Mick Finlay was born in Glasgow and grew up in Canada and England. He now divides his time between Brighton and Cambridge. He teaches in a Psychology Department, and has published social psychological research on political violence, persuasion, and verbal and non-verbal behaviour. He reads widely in history, psychology, and enjoys a variety of fiction genres (including crime, of course!)
Holmes fanatics are safe in picking up ARROWOOD because it steers neatly around the established sleuth's famous cases, keeping the focus in this down-and-dirty world instead.  The feel is very similar to the series by M.R.C. Kasasian, and I enjoyed the dark humor. Well done, Mick Finlay!

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Fracking, Addiction, and Crime, FATEFUL MORNINGS, Edgar Winning Author Tom Bouman

Tom Bouman's first crime novel, Dry Bones in the Valley, earned him a 2015 Edgar Award for the heart-rending and gritty investigation by a local police officer, Henry Farrell, in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Released today is Bouman's second: FATEFUL MORNINGS. The title is reflected repeatedly in Henry's discoveries among his neighbors, from wealthy to hardscrabble, as he follows a trail of addiction and related crimes, crossing the trail of a possible serial murderer -- one who must be both clever and deeply disturbed.

For Office Henry Farrell in Wild Thyme, Pennsylvania, there are few simple, or simply good, parts of life. Stranded in a small and politically challenging job due to his own past failures, he's struggling to find some beauty anyway: in the forested landscape around him (riven by oil fracking though it is), and in the old-time music he plays with friends (he wanted to call their group the Fateful Mornings from an old tune, but they're the Country Slippers, a local joke about their boots). It's typical of Henry that he's also taking easy pleasure in an affair with a married woman -- a complication that will soon cripple his work, as well as his affections.

What makes this book -- all of Bouman's writing -- so memorable, beyond the cunning plot and painful portrait of this "Rust Belt" region, is the emotion invested in each scene. Take this simple moment of Henry gathering up (in the middle of tangled jurisdictions) a possible suspect who's reported a missing woman:
"Stand up, please." I patted him down, catching body odor that was sharp like cheese, sweet like bread or beer No weapon.

"If she'd dead, I didn't kill her." ...

I put an arm on his shoulder and steered him to my vehicle.

On the drive to the sheriff's, I thought about my visit to their home that winter, and about their history. You show up to a domestic call expecting to see people still in the grip of the fight that got you called out, clawing, screaming. You come to somebody's defense, chances are they let you in on a punch or two. You're the person they hate more than each other. That January night when I had pulled up to the trailer off Dunleary, my blue lights dancing off the white woods, with Swales's house barely visible through the tree trunks, it was quiet. I knocked and stepped inside. The first thing O'Keefe asked me was to turn off my lights to the landlord wouldn't know I'd been called.

... Neither spoke as I stomped snow off my boots and ducked inside. The only signs of struggle were Penelope's flaring nostrils, a butcher's knife in front of her on the table, and bloody paper towels wrapped around O'Keefe's hand.
Though the paths through FATEFUL MORNINGS are grim ones, the solid and often lovely writing and the irresistible characters make the book a compelling read. Don't expect an easy ending -- well, we're talking about the 21st-century equivalent of coal country here, aren't we? Even the land is hurting. And its people are in trouble.

Which means it's a good thing that all-too-human Henry Farrell is stuck in Wild Thyme, trying to hold a crippled sort of peace.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here

PPS: There are good parallels between this series and Julia Keller's West Virginia crime series. Click here to look at some Keller reviews.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Advance Mention of July 4 Release, NO SURRENDER, Patrick Bisher with Jon Land

I'm a fan of Jon Land's quirky crime series featuring Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong. In a startling divergence from his two mystery series, Land's newest book -- on which he is the secondary author -- is nonfiction, an inspirational memoir from Navy SEAL warrior Patrick Bisher.

The full title of the book is NO SURRENDER: FAITH, FAMILY, AND FINDING YOUR WAY. Bisher, who suffered a major bone failure as a 9-year-old child that could have confined him to a wheelchair or crutches for life, instead chose to push past enormous physical pain for years, in an effort to keep up with how he saw his brothers -- one living, one deceased -- and a refusal to give up.

Although his story is framed alongside his changing faith in God, Bisher mostly narrates his choices as reflecting grit, stubbornness, and a willingness to suffer pain as needed to reach his goals. It's not my kind of book in general, but between Bisher's compelling story and the presumed writing support he had from Jon Land, I found the memoir worth reading, looking always for how this astonishing warrior-in-the-making would cope with his next threatened defeat.

If you're looking for a Fourth of July gift to inspire and encourage someone facing a similar set of choices -- including youngsters considering a military career -- consider making this book your patriotic and touching gift to someone this summer. The release date is July 4, from Post Hill Press (already available for pre-ordering online or at your local independent bookstore).

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Detroit-Area Crime Reporter Julia Gooden in DUPLICITY by Jane Haseldine

DUPLICITY is the second of the Julia Gooden crime novels -- but the first to come my way. Issued as a hardcover by Kensington, it moves author Jane Haseldine onto the "must collect" list. Not only is this gritty and high-tension mystery set in grim and corruptible Detroit, once the nation's "Motor City"; it takes the classic situation of investigative journalist versus crooked justice, and salts it with mob violence and vicious politics.

For Julia Gooden, the job comes first. That makes her a challenging character, when you consider she's also a mom to two small boys -- in fact, almost a single mom, since she's only starting to consider letting her estranged husband back into the family's life.

Her career also pits her directly against her husband David at this moment, as he is the prosecutor taking a mob figure to trial, determined to keep witnesses and testimony secret for as long as possible, to secure the safety of those on the stand. When a rival newspaper picks up details that Julia might have exposed if only she didn't have to be so careful of her husband's position, her own job prospects take a hard blow. But that's nothing compared to the violence and risk ahead, as her efforts to keep her family safe take her behind the crime scenes, into serious conflicts of interest.

Adding yet another layer of suspense and darkness to Julia's life is her past: not just the years when her marriage "worked" but also the childhood crushed by the kidnapping of her brother, who still hasn't been found -- one reason, in fact, that she's kept her "maiden" name despite marrying.

All this comes to a head in a hospital room, as Julia wonders whether David can even hear her trying to encourage him to recover from an act of terror -- and steps into deep trouble through a routine gesture:
She notices a cardboard box containing David's belongings on a stand next to the bed, including his clothing he had carefully selected for big day one of the trial. Julia inspects the items in the box: David's cell phone, wallet, blue suit coat and dress pants, white button-down shirt with the gold stripes she picked for him just hours earlier. ... Julia tucks the box under her arm as Dr. Whitcomb pokes his head inside the door.

"Ms. Gooden, I'm afraid it's time to leave."

Julia leans in close to David and whispers in his ear, "I love you. Fight with all you've got."
What Julia will later find on that significant cell phone shifts the balance in this intense thriller, and will also affect her interactions with a local police detective. Layer after layer, she's got to figure out who around her is trustworthy -- and whose duplicity is going to wound her yet again.

And, oh yes, somehow save her job, if possible.

This is a fast-moving and suspenseful tale, with enjoyable complications and twists throughout. Julia Gooden won't be my favorite character of the month -- I didn't like some of her choices, to the point where I wouldn't actually want her as a friend. But that's OK: I still want to follow her investigations, here and in future books of the series.

I also get the strong impression that Haseldine -- a former crime reporter herself -- is positioned to get steadily stronger in this genre. Worth going along for the ride!

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Monday, June 12, 2017

New Release, THE ULTIMATUM, Thriller from Karen Robards

There's a time for hot suspense, and sometimes there's a place for romance -- but in THE ULTIMATUM,  the new and exhilarating thriller from Karen Robards, it's suspense and danger that take the hot seat. And that's terrific news, because Bianca St. Ives -- daughter of an outrageous international con man who's taught her the ultimate in survival skills and problem solving -- needs all her wits about her to carry out her own high-stakes tasks.

If you've ever wondered where the equivalent of Jack Reacher was for women, the answer is, in this page-turning global crime novel. Bianca's irresistible, a determined young women making fools out of the unprincipled gangsters she's up against. The first hundred pages of THE ULTIMATUM pits her against a misogynous prince of Bahrain, and she's leading a crew of top-notch thieves to reclaim something the prince shouldn't have. But it looks like the whole night's been a setup, to get to her and her team -- or, most dangerously of all, to her father.

So when the heist goes catastrophic, and she and her least likely associate watch a death trap in operation, Bianca shakes off the horror that's frozen her in place:
"We have to go," she said, and stood up. It took every ounce of strength and determination she possessed. Fire trucks raced up the street, screaming to a stop beside the flaming truck. Firefighters jumped down, ran to connect their hoses to hydrants along the plaza. ...

Doc rose too. "But we can't just --"

"Yes, we can. We have to go," she repeated more strongly and grabbed his arm. "We can't help them. We can stay here and die with them, or we can save ourselves."
Strong, fierce, determined -- these are the key words for Bianca St. Ives. She's also hungry for family and loyal friends, and when she finds them under threat, her own actions have one route only: Save them, no matter the challenge.

Whether she's negotiating terms on a boat at sea or struggling for footing on a snow-covered mountain, her extreme fitness skills and her desire to follow the quest her dad instilled in her drive her into high action and hair-raising hunts -- where she is sometimes the hunter but just as often, the prey.

Robards salts the adventure with a deft touch of sexual tension, since one of Bianca's opponents has an odd knack of taking her breath away. But it doesn't stop Bianca, or deter her. Not at all.

I kicked myself as I reached the final chapter, having only just realized what the book's title suggested; some readers will figure that part out much sooner than I did. More importantly, I hated to turn the final pages. Good thing this is the start of a series, even if the name "The Guardian Series" sound more like sci fi than international thriller. Hmm. When you've devoured your copy (turn off all distractions), let me know what you think. No spoilers, though!

Robards, by the way, is the author of more than 50 novels -- if, like me, you haven't sampled her work before, that may be because a her early work was romantic suspense, then contemporary suspense. I'm hoping she'll stay with intense thriller as her long-time genre, now that she's broken into it so boldly and marvelously. Quick comparisons: Less emotionally torn than Taylor Stevens's Monroe, not as wounded at Carol O'Connell's Kathy, but a bit more complex (and hence engaging) than Jack Reacher. Grab a copy.

 PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Summer Mystery Delight, DEATH ON NANTUCKET, Francine Mathews

Summer reading season is fully here, and with it, a crop of new mysteries to enjoy. I'm especially glad that DEATH ON NANTUCKET came my way. This fifth in the Merry Folger Mystery series from Francine Mathews is a smoothly written, tightly plotted detective novel based on one of the classic mystery tropes: the death of a wealthy head of the family, with a circle of possible beneficiaries in the house.

Investigating for the Nantucket police force is Detective Meredith Folger, who needs to have her A game lined up: Not only is Spencer Murphy a famous and powerful former war correspondent with a fortune amassed from his books -- but the death of his (unknown to many) adopted daughter as the July 4th weekend opens puts pressure on Merry to quickly get the facts, make a determination, charge someone or not, and have it all wrapped up politely before the weekend ends. At least, that's what her highly critical boss expects from her.

Merry's own past -- lightly and deftly sketched in by Mathews -- includes having to fight for her own upcoming wedding ceremony to be on her terms, not those of her powerful mother-in-law to be. The challenges of both work and home help her to tune in quickly to the Murphy family undercurrents. Loyalties cut both ways, Spencer Murphy is losing his own truths to dementia, and the family's youngest member on scene, young college grad Laney Murphy, seems the only person willing to be fully honest as Merry sorts through motive, means, and abundant opportunity.

This is a great traditional mystery, one of the most satisfying I've read this season. I recommend it highly, and will scramble to line up the earlier titles for my own summer reading pleasure: Death in the Off-Season, Death in Rough Water, Death in a Mood Indigo, Death in a Cold Hard Light.

Although the series is new to me, I'm already a fan of what Francine Mathews writes under her other nom de plume, Stephanie Barron. The author lives in Denver, CO, but clearly knows Nantucket well -- and is a former CIA intelligence analyst.

Newly released today, from Soho Crime. And I have a list of people for whom to buy copies already!

 PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Cara Black/Aimée Leduc Paris Mystery 17, MURDER IN SAINT-GERMAIN

Good news for Cara Black mystery fans -- number 17 in the very entertaining Aimée Leduc series is released today. And MURDER IN SAINT-GERMAIN takes the Parisian detective in a fresh new direction: sorting out an espionage-related set of crimes that cross her path.

That's not simple for the new and mostly single mom who runs a cybersecurity firm, where ideally she could stay at a desk like her detection partners, checking videotape and files. But even that turns active in this mystery, with a client demanding in-person service that sends Leduc scrambling for changes of couture -- and there's nothing like scrambling across rooftops encrusted with pigeon waste, to make a gal pull off her designer footwear and tackle the task barefoot after all.

Aimée Leduc is also scrambling for child care, as her darling baby, newly mobile, needs careful care, but the usual caregivers aren't available. When Melac, the baby's hunky but disloyal dad, steps up to cover the gap, a mysterious woman that Melac introduces as his mother (who knew?!) also enters.

Even while sorting out Bosnians, Serbians, and war criminals, Leduc's own confused past keeps claiming her attention. Is her godfather, Morbier, dying in a hospital as a result of her own actions? Has she been unfair? Do the Paris police care whether she was right or wrong, or will they simply all make her life harder as punishment for her injuring their hero, Morbier?

This one's a lively page turner, and even comes with a map to help put the detection and suspense into geographical perspective. Series fans will find it a "must"; if you're new to the series, it still reads well, but you may want to skip back a couple of titles to get background on the sometimes chaotic issues and relationships! Otherwise the sometimes choppy chapters can be a bit distracting.

As I write this, Paris is in the breaking news for an attack on a police officer at the cathedral of Notre Dame; better to have the crimes in the fiction instead. Add this one to the summer reading stack for light fun.

Checklist of titles, newest last, thanks to the Cara Black website:

Murder in the Marais (1999)
Murder in Belleville (2000)
Murder in the Sentier (2003)
Murder in the Bastille (2004) Murder in Clichy (2005)
Murder in Montmartre (2006) Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis (2007) Murder in the Rue de Paradis (2008) Murder in the Latin Quarter (2009) Murder in the Palais Royale (2010) Murder in Passy (2011)

Murder at the Lanterne Rouge (2012) Murder Below Montparnasse (2013) Murder In Pigalle (2014)
Murder on the Champ de Mars (2015) Murder on the Quai (2016)

Murder in Saint-Germain (2017)
PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here

Thursday, June 01, 2017

When Computer Crashes Are Criminal -- BLACKOUT from Marc Elsberg

Part of the fun of global culture is catching up with a book that's already been a bestseller "someplace else." Marc Elsberg's thriller BLACKOUT, released in hardcover in the US today, took Europe by storm in 2012. Fun to have this all-too-believable page-turner come across the ocean!

Elsberg lives in Vienna, Austria, so BLACKOUT is a translated crime novel -- but Marshall Yarbrough's skills make the change of language invisible. The book's premise is that the interlinked power grids across Europe could be triggered to fail, through relatively small and workable changes in the software that runs the generating stations, from hydro to nuclear. Spinning the thriller into deeper intrigue is the notion that today's computer hackers could make those changes. And then, bang, we're into food shortages, hospital issues, transport failure, lack of fuel, and soon, political unrest.

It's hard to avoid spoilers on this one. So I'll just add that the book's written in very short segments, alternating points of view every couple of pages, or sooner (if that makes you crazy, don't open this one). The characters are clever but not deep; it's the plot and the relentless action that make this a powerful and yes, anxiety-arousing (!) read. It's not going to bind you to the protagonist the way a Lee Child crime novel will, but it moves as quickly (or more so), and I do believe the author's claim that it provoked a lot of security changes in the power industries!

Even though I'm keeping this short, I enjoyed every minute of BLACKOUT and am going to get multiple copies, for all the friends and family members who won't be able to put it down. Hope you can grab a copy ASAP. Move it to the top of the summer stack -- so you'll be prepare!

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Brief Mention, Medieval Mystery by Oliver Pötzsch, THE PLAY OF DEATH

Three reasons to read number six in Oliver Pötzsch's "Hangman's Daughter" series, THE PLAY OF DEATH:
1. You collect the reading experience of mysteries set in Bavaria.
2. You like fiction set in the 1600s.
3. You're planning to see the Bread & Puppet Theater in action in Vermont (or treasure having done so in the past, especially in the 1970s and 1980s).
At the heart of this somewhat awkwardly translated mystery (reminds me of the translation of P.J. Brackston's books, also set in Bavaria) is the annual passion play in Oberammergau -- which in many ways is a precursor to the grand spectacles that Bread & Puppet created. The second strand is what life is like in a caste-conscious society when you're part of a hangman's family.

And the third, of course, is a murder and finding the dangerous criminal responsible.

I'm not going to cover this one in depth -- seems to me if you have one of those reasons, you'll pick up the book, and otherwise, skip it -- but here's the formal description from the Munich-born author's website:
It is 1670 and Simon Fronwieser is in the town of Oberammergau to bring his seven-year-old son to boarding school. As he bids his boy a tearful farewell, news comes of a shocking murder: the man who was to play the part of Christ in the town’s Passion play has been found dead, nailed to the set’s cross. As there is no doctor in town, Simon is brought in to examine the body. The opportunities to spend more time with his son and to investigate the murder quickly convince him to stay.

Soon he is joined by his father-in-law, Jakob Kuisl, the Schongau hangman, and the two begin piecing together the puzzle of the actor’s death. Was he murdered by a jealous rival? Are the recently arrived and unpopular immigrant workers somehow involved? Or is it a punishment from God for the villagers’ arrogance in trying to schedule the play four years earlier than prescribed by ancient custom? Once again it looks like it is up to the Kuisls to unravel the mystery and bring a town’s dark secrets to light.
Brought to the US by Mariner, a Houghton Mifflin Harcourt press. (A quick note: Yes, I realize that strictly speaking the 1600s are beyond the medieval period. But trust me, not in this landscape.)

 PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

More Summer Reading, British "Traditional" Mystery with Archaeology, THE CHALK PIT, Elly Griffiths

British author Elly Griffiths writes two distinctive mystery series, one set "today" in and around Norwich, England, rich with archaeology and very British themes, and the other involving stage magic and illusion plus murder, circa 1950. I'm a fan of both.

Just released this week in the US is the newest in her Ruth Galloway mystery series, featuring a forensic archaeologist who's also a single parent in a very complicated network of university politics, local police, and the remnants of England's past -- which in Ruth's case includes a significant friendship with a modern-day Druid. No fancy paranormal side effects in here, unless you count the occasional strong intuition that Ruth and her friends may experience. Instead, THE CHALK PIT provides the perfect summer read: a strong traditional mystery with powerful motives (money and power!), and heart-stirring secondary plotting among the homeless in Norwich.

This time Ruth's investigating some human bones that turned up in an old tunnel, part of an excavation for a future restaurant-and-event locale, where the money at stake pushed the agenda. Hurry up and declare the bones insignificant remains of some medieval resident (definitely not royal) and get them out of the way. Ruth's willing ... but, as she settles to discussing them with DCI Nelson, head of the Norwich police team and a mostly former flame of Ruth's, her doubts take shape:
"Anyway, it's likely that the bones are medieval or even older. There's no flesh on them and they look very clean. It's just ..."

"What is it, Ruth? I know there's something you're not telling me."

"It might be nothing. But one of the long bones was broken in the middle and there were cut marks on it. And the bones were so clean, almost shiny. It reminded me of something that I've read about. Pot polish."

"Pot polish? Sounds like something my granny would do."

"I doubt it. It's when bones are boiled soon after death. The polish comes from the contact with a roughly made cooking vessel."

"Jesus wept." Nelson chokes on his last crumb of cake. "Are you saying these bones were in a cooking pot?"
While Ruth keeps that aspect as quiet as possible, she's getting crowded by fellow academics who want to push into the underground labyrinth with her, and some have motives that worry her. Meanwhile, Nelson's team, especially DS Judy Johnson, has another reason for interest in those old tunnels that were once part of the region's chalk-mining industry: Could homeless people in the area become crime victims of someone living "underground" and kidnapping them, or worse?

Griffiths keeps the twists spinning, enlivened by Ruth Galloway's confused "love life" that tugs her in as many directions as her work does. Lively storytelling, quick surprises, and a lot at stake make the book a very good vacation from ordinary daily life -- and from the lawnmower and garden!

This is the ninth in the series, and it lacks the tang of some of the earlier titles when Ruth's Druid friend Cathbad saw more action. There's no need to read the others first -- Griffiths is a pro in terms of setting the scene in a sequel by now -- but for the best enjoyment, I'd recommend splurging for the summer reading pile and picking up the earlier titles in softcover (The Crossing Places, The Janus Stone, The House at Sea's End, A Room Full of Bones, A Dying Fall, The Outcast Dead, The Ghost Fields, The Woman in Blue). FYI, the earlier titles veer a bit more toward the dark and dangerous side than THE CHALK PIT does. (It's all about taste, isn't it?)

Great that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has brought this series across the Atlantic.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.