Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Quick Mention: Wiley Cash, A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME

As a YA ("young adult") writer, I'm intrigued by the observation that child narrators of mysteries and thrillers are, by definition, "unreliable" -- because they don't know enough to interpret what they see. We as adult readers bring the other pieces to the puzzle and put the answers together.

A newspaper review a week or so ago decided me: I bought a copy of the debut literary thriller by Wiley Cash, A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME. The title is framed in the book's epigraph from Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again. And the most compelling of the book's three narrators is a boy named Jess Hall, growing up curious in a small western North Carolina town where the grown-ups are doing things he can't understand.

The first half of the book gave me a new understanding of "tragic." But at the same time, Jess had just enough hope and love to keep me from walking away from him and his story. The second half kept me with one hand on the book, no matter what else I was supposed to be doing. It meant a very late night -- and worth every lost moment of sleep.

Sometimes love hurts, even as it makes the hurt worthwhile. Cash's debut book captures all of that, and it's no surprise that Clyde Edgerton, Ernest J. Gaines, and Gail Godwin are among the authors who've blurbed the book.

Best news of the day: Cash's second book is already scheduled for publication in 2014. Author website: http://www.wileycash.com.

Romantic Suspense in Ireland: Carla Neggers, DECLAN'S CROSS

A little more edgy than a "cozy," a little less did-I-lock-the-doors than a thriller -- romantic suspense fits into a comfort zone. DECLAN'S CROSS, from the deft Vermont/Ireland/Maine author Carla Neggers, provides an escape to the lush and rugged hills of the Emerald Isle. Following her usual path, Neggers centers the crime detection efforts on a pair of characters from her earlier books, this time FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan. But she also weaves in other characters we haven't yet grown to know as well, like Julianne Maroney, in love with another Donovan brother and trying to get over it.

Julianne is in Ireland on impulse, expecting her two-week visit to connect her with the start of a marine lab and to give her a restored sense of independence. Emma and Colin, on the other hand, are wrestling with how their intermeshed careers can make room for a relationship -- not easy, especially since Emma still has confidences to keep from her family's art theft investigations.

But Colin in particular senses irregularities in the invitation that Julianne has accepted and the FBI agents head across Ireland to check things out. And when a murder (thinly disguised as an accident) takes place within the marine lab situation, neither Colin nor Emma will leave the Irish village of Declan's Cross until Julianne is safe and the crime has been resolved. Emma may even need to bring her secretive grandfather into the solution -- and Colin isn't keeping any of this away from his brother in Maine, who's very worried for Julianne.

Cleverly plotted, with ample helpings of scenic luxury and warm generosity of heart, DECLAN'S CROSS is a gem of a diversion from winter's arrival and the holiday stresses. No need to read the previous title in the series (Heron's Cove) beforehand, but for a special treat, pick up both at once and indulge.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Vermont Police Mystery: Archer Mayor, THREE CAN KEEP A SECRET

Archer Mayor's Vermont includes the fictional but very reasonably created Vermont Bureau of Investigation, the VBI -- for which Brattleboro resident and former local police officer Joe Gunther holds the command post. THREE CAN KEEP A SECRET is a twist on the old expression, "Two can keep a secret if one of them is dead." And in this 24th Joe Gunther investigation, long-buried secrets are reopened thanks to Hurricane Irene as the storm creates havoc and catastrophe around the Green Mountain State.

Riding along with Gunther, north and south, east and west, covers most of Vermont in this round. I was on scene during the storm, and what Gunther discovers in terms of its ravages -- swamped downtowns, smashed homes, rivers that rose, ripped, and retreated -- matches my own memories, with extra mud and sewage dished up on the side. Joe even dons a haz-mat suit to enter the underground tunnels of the state's most haunting health care site, trying to help the local police force locate a missing patient from the state's central psychiatric hospital.

The escape of that patient -- a petite and apparently harmless lady who calls herself The Governor -- is one direct result of the hurricane. Another is a coffin, exposed in a washed-out cemetery, filled with rocks instead of a body. And then there's the suspicious death of a politically powerful senior citizen in a care facility that's got major strings attached.

In THREE CAN KEEP A SECRET, Archer Mayor dishes up a marvelous sequel to his 23 earlier books, and brings a highly satisfying cast of favorite characters back: not just Joe's "work family" of the irascible Willy Kunkle and blunt-spoken Sammie Martens, along with ultra-responsible Les Spinney, but also Joe's family of origin steps up: his brother Leo and their aging mom, who haven't appeared for a while in the series. It's great to have them here. And watching Sammie and Willy deal with assignments that compete, while parenting their infant daughter, adds extra interest to the setup.

Neither the rock-filled coffin nor the missing psychiatric patient gives up secrets easily. When they do resolve, though, Gunther and his team reach a surprising finale on each strand of this quick-paced traditional mystery. Clear the weekend calendar and settle down for a rousing good read.

And may the hurricane season be a lot gentler in the future!

Catching Up on William G. Tapply's Mysteries

Emma at Open Road Media sent this along a few weeks back, and I just made time (finally!) to visit the website for William Tapply at Open Road Media. What a great idea -- Tapply's books were challenging to find at times even when he was still "among us." Since his death, I've thought of his series from time to time, and wished I'd collected all of his books when I still had the chance to meet him. Now, with this "Tapply library" so accessible, I can at least indulge in reading the Brady Coyne titles I never did add to my shelves. Here's Emma's message:
We are thrilled to announce the ebook publication of seventeen Brady Coyne legal mysteries by William G. Tapply. Written between 1984 and 2009, Tapply’s beloved mysteries begin with the Scriber Crime Novel Award–winning Death at Charity’s Point, and feature the avid fisherman and Boston lawyer, Brady Coyne. The Washington Post claims Brady Coyne is “one of the most likeable sleuths to appear on the crime scene in quite a long time.”

William G. Tapply (1940-2009) was the author of over 40 books, including over two dozen Brady Coyne mysteries. He was a frequent contributor to outdoor magazines, such as Field and Stream and American Angler, as well as an English professor at Emerson College and Clark University.

We hope that by making these novels available as ebooks, they will reach the wide audience that they deserve. I’d be delighted if you shared the news on your site or through your social networks, and I encourage you to check out the new cover art, available on the author’s page here.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Florentine Detective Mystery: Magdalen Nabb Excels With THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE

THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE is the final Marshal Guarnaccia investigation that Soho Crime expects to publish; author Magdalen Nabb died in 2007. It is one of the most provocative and unusual mysteries I've read this year, and I highly recommend it for any collection of international mysteries, detective series, and crime fiction.

That said, brace yourself for a reading experience that takes you inside the mind of an aging, humble, and insecure detective who knows he is easily confused and, in his wife's absence, handicapped by his inability to cope with simple tasks like making sure he has enough to eat, or laundering his clothes, or -- most essential for an investigator of serial murder -- discharging the disturbing images from his work, in order to sleep. In fact, Marshal Guarnaccia is plagued by nightmares and the sense of having half seen a significant clue or connection. And when he is forced to stay in Florence over the Christmas holidays, while his wife Teresa and his sons go to Sicily for the annual visit with both his and her relatives there, the Marshal's insecurities and night disturbances mount up in proportion to the twisted psychology of the suspects around him. And then, of course, there are the twists and manipulations of the politically prominent detective leading the task force to which he's been assigned.

That assignment, to a group trying to round up evidence to imprison the main suspect in a decades-long series of murders of couples in their cars after lovemaking, frightens the Marshal with its irrationality and uncertainties. Why should he be given standing on a high-profile case? As he tells Teresa, "I've never been on an important case. The only case I ever solved was when that poor creature Cipolla shot that Englishman. And he only did it by accident and after that he was just hanging around waiting for me to arrest him."

What the Marshal does have, though, is both integrity and an enormous sense of responsibility, especially to young men suffering injustice. Even as he struggles to catch up with reading and digesting the copious files of the case against the Suspect -- files that seem to have been edited to enforce a particular conclusion -- he's trying to help a young friend who's inherited a piece of art that may be a forgery.  And then the contortions of the task force, and the probability of injustice, take the Marshal exactly where he knows he shouldn't go: into re-investigating the murder cases, going to the scenes himself, and questioning some of the witnesses and possible other suspects.

What Nabb does that feels particularly disturbing is spin the Marshal's thoughts and efforts within his personal crisis of faith in himself, his aging thought processes, his "man-lost-without-his-wife" handicaps -- and take the reader into the mists of confusion and fear. And all this in Florence, Italy, far from the despair-filled settings of Scandinavian noir!

THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE is not noir, anyway; hope, love, and friendship glimmer in it unexpectedly and sweetly, like carefully shielded candles in a storm. By the end of this satisfyingly thick and rich mystery, I recognized that I was also grieving: for the loss of Nabb, and of her struggling yet persistent and committed and deeply humane Marshal Guarnaccia.

A note for those who follow European crime: This book is indeed inspired by seven double homicides in the area around Florence from 1968 to 1985. What Nabb does with that inspiration, however, is intended as fiction -- fiction well worth reading.

And here are the preceding Marshal Guarnaccia titles , from oldest to newest (not necessary to read the first, but you may want to gather them later):
Death of a Dutchman
Death of an Englishman

Death in Springtime
Death in Autumn
The Marshal and the Murderer
The Marshal and the Madwoman
The Marshal's Own Case
The Marshal Makes His Report
The Marshal at the Villa Torrini
Some Bitter Taste
Property of Blood
The Innocent

Debut Mystery: THE SÉANCE SOCIETY, Michael Nethercott

Looking for a traditional mystery with memorable characters and clever twists of investigation and plot? Vermonter Michael Nethercott provides a cozy read in his debut detective novel, THE SÉANCE SOCIETY, set in 1956 Connecticut and introducing willing but inexperienced detective Lee Plunkett and his unusual sidekick, the Irish and bearded Mr. O'Nelligan.

Lee Plunkett is an accidental detective -- not quite a true amateur sleuth, he's fallen into the business role by inheriting it from his father but hasn't ever quote committed to it. The same applies personally, as he's more or less in love with his long-time fiancée, Audrey, and it's her connection with Mr. O'Nelligan, her neighbor, that brings the older gent into Lee's casework.

Hired by a police detective who's about to retire and doesn't want a poor result to his last case, Plunkett is soon investigating an untimely death, perhaps accidental electrocution, within a cadre of spiritualists -- whose performance he's already witnessed, in company with Mr. O'Nelligan and Audrey. Plunkett isn't convinced that the death is particularly significant or interesting, either. He comments to Audrey as he reads of the death, "Well, the man's bought his own ticket to spiritland." When she challenges his "rather callous" remark, he adds that it's "ironic that someone who's put so much effort into seeking out the company of ghosts --" and Audry caps him, "Should turn himself into one with some stupid mistake?"

Séances are performance art, Plunkett knows (and he's not the sort to contemplate big issues like Life Beyond Death anyway, so being a skeptic comes naturally to him). But he's no Sherlock Holmes, and lacks craft and flair. Instead, he's gifted with a stubborn refusal to accept what doesn't make sense -- and with the company of Mr. O'Nelligan, who is not going to let Audrey's boyfriend fail on this assignment. Between quotes from Irish bard Yeats and snippets of Irish parables and mottos, the older man shoves Plunkett into decisive action after all.

Nethercott provides a clever twist to "motive, means, opportunity" and insight into the machinations of spiritual fakery along the way. He also paints an enjoyably innocent time and place in America by choosing the 1950s. And he clearly has his mystery positioned for a series: goaded by career, fiancée, and Mr. O'Nelligan, Lee Plunkett shows promise as a detective after all. And maybe he'll even get around to marrying Audrey!