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.