Thursday, March 8, 2018

Playing with Dynamite

Flaxborough Chronicles # 2
Colin Watson
March 8, 2018

Things are generally peaceful in the country town of Chelmsford until one Tuesday night when a municipal drinking fountain is blown up. On succeeding Tuesday nights, a statue of a local worthy loses its head in an explosion, and a local oculist loses his treasured premises sign which features a giant glass eye. Oddly enough the chief of police in Chelmsford is always away on Tuesday nights at the civil defense center. The town has its prime suspect, prankster and almost universally disliked Stan Biggadyke, a longtime friend of the police chief. When a life is lost in the next explosion and explosives are discovered missing at the civil defense center, the Chief Constable calls in DI Purbright of Flaxborough.

Filled with sly humor and well-drawn portraits of the various eccentric inhabitants of Chelmsford, Bump in the Night is a delightful classic mystery. Knowing that Colin Watson was a career journalist makes the character of the eager cub reporter, Len Leaper, even more enjoyable. Len's idea of midnight sleuthing makes for some hilarious scenes.

The Chelmsford Chronicles are perfect, quick reads for fans of classic mysteries. Thanks to Farrago Books, both for bringing them back and for providing me with an advance copy; also thanks to NetGalley. The opinions are my own.

RATING-4 Stars

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Murder-Suicide and Space Aliens in Small Town Wisconsin?

Mattie Winston Mysteries # 9
Kensington Books
February 27,2018

Mattie Winston and her new husband, Steve Hurley, are settled into his home, along with Steve's 15-year old daughter, Emily, and their 2-year old son, Matthew.Things are cramped in Steve's small house, so they are planning to build a new home.  Besides the stresses of a new marriage and a blended family, Mattie is working insane hours at the Medical Examiner's office because of the death of her work sharing counterpart and the recent heart attack of her boss, Izzy. Mattie is a death investigator, assisting Izzy at autopsies and working on cases. It's a good fit because of her nursing background and her general nosiness. The plus is that she works with Steve often in his capacity as a police detective; sometimes it seems that that work is their only time together. The two are called out to a local motel where there appears to be a murder-suicide but seems wrong to Mattie. Then, the construction crew excavating their building site discovers skeletal remains. The skeleton appears to be a space alien, and a media frenzy ensues. Tying up the ends of the two cases are much more than a full-time job for both, especially since the murder-suicide has ties to an earlier investigation; one that the solution arrived at dissatisfies both Steve and Mattie.

I have enjoyed all the Mattie Winston novels because of the characterization and the humor. The humor in Dead Calm is not as broad as in some of the others, but there are plenty of chuckles. The search for a working counterpart for Mattie brings some of the oddest applicants ever. Then there is Mattie's continuing battle with food and klutziness. I did spot the murderer early on, but the appearances of Mattie's group of friends and family made up for that.

Thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for an advance copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, February 26, 2018

Old Sins and Secrets Never Die

John Hart
St. Martin's Minotaur
February 27, 2018

In John Hart's newest novel he revisits two characters from The Last Child, Johnny Merrimon, and Jack Cross. Ten years on, their lives have diverged widely, but the two are still the closest of friends. Jack is beginning his career as a bankruptcy lawyer, and Johnny has inherited a six thousand acre tract of swampland called "The Hush."Johnny built a cabin on the land and has essentially become a hermit, seldom going into town and living off the land. The notoriety from the events of The Last Child still clings to both, and they would prefer to stay out of the public eye as much as possible. But other people want the land; a billionaire game hunter, and the family of Isaac Fremantle. The property formerly belonged to the Merrimons but was deeded to the Fremantle family, along with manumission in 1853.The death of the last Fremantle male triggered the reversion of the property to Johnny. But there are very odd things happening both on the property and to Johnny himself, things that Jack finds frightening and dangerous.Old sins and secrets are coming to a head in The Hush.

John Hart has taken a significant risk with this novel with its jump from traditional thriller into magical realism. If you have difficulty with the suspension of disbelief, this may be a disappointment. Thinking back to The Last Child, the roots are there for this new story. I am, as always, dazzled by Hart's storytelling. It's not often that I read a book cover to cover in one day, but I couldn't put this one down. It is not necessary to read The Last Child to thoroughly enjoy The Hush, but I recommend it. 

Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martins for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Friday, February 9, 2018

Charles Lenox as a Fledgling Detective

Charles Lenox Series #11
Charles Finch
St. Martin's Minotaur
February 20, 2018

In the most recent Charles Lenox series entry, author Charles Finch has provided a prequel set in 1850 detailing Lenox's first important case. Lenox, second son of a baronet, is newly "down" from Oxford and establishing a household of his own for the first time. His ambitions, either to open a detective agency or to travel, have met with a decidedly lukewarm reception from his father and derision from the society he moves in. He and his former scout at Oxford, Graham, spend their mornings combing through the broadsheets for crime news. When he discovers a letter in one of the papers boasting of a "perfect murder" he thinks he has found a connection to the case of an unknown woman found inside a trunk, floating in the Thames. He presents his theory to Scotland Yard, where it is met with some grudging support and more resistance. When a second woman is found on the bank of the river, the Yard and Lenox embark on a chase for the madman responsible. Charles is also dealing with the reality of his father's impending death, predicted to be within six months, and a case of unrequited love.

I have always admired the Charles Lenox series for the quality of Finch's writing, the settings, and the many interesting facts about the period that Finch drops effortlessly into the narrative. My favorite this time is the origin of the name of Great Scotland Street. I can't say that I ever connected with Lenox on an emotional level, or understood why he wanted to be a detective. The Woman in the Water changes that by introducing the 23-year-old Lenox with all his fears and insecurities. His interactions with his dying father, his mother, his brother are very revealing and emotional, without tipping into maudlin. We also get glimpses of long-time series characters; McConnell, a four-year-old John Dallington, and of course, the estimable Graham, and Lady Jane. Lenox makes several rookie mistakes in the investigation which might threaten his nearest and dearest. But even Scotland Yard reluctantly recognizes that he is more than a dilettante. Even his unwanted and disapproving housekeeper, Mrs. Huggins comes to a detente with Charles, providing some comic relief.

I highly recommend The Woman in the Water to both old and new readers of the series. Thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Persuasion in Academia

Julia Sonneborn
Gallery Books
February 6, 2018

Anne Corey is a 30ish professor at a small liberal arts college in California. She has little to no time for a personal life, teaching a full schedule and trying to get tenure with the publication of an academic work on 19th-century women writers. Without a book contract, Anne is out of a job. If not for her friend, Larry, a colleague and best friend, she would have no life at all. It's the beginning of the year when she discovers that the new president of the college is Adam Martinez, a former classmate at Princeton and ex-fiance. The two dated throughout their university years and only broke up the day before graduation. Anne was feeling pressure from her judgemental father who wants her to be a lawyer, harpy of a sister, and college mentor to skip marriage in favor of a career. The argument was a silly one, but Anne used it to break up with Adam, and he, out of pride, let her do so. She is conflicted, having never really gotten over Adam. Adam is cooly friendly, but the two have little to say to each other. The writer-in-residence at the college for the year is a multi-award winning journalist and novelist who shows an interest in Anne. The two plunge into an affair quickly, but thoughts of Adam are never far from the surface.

By the Book is a thoroughly enjoyable read that gave me lots of laughs and even a few tears. The process of being published is represented by a series of rejection letters that range from hilarious to brutal. My favorite was one stating that her manuscript about 19th-century women writers would be significantly improved by the inclusion guessed Based on Jane Austen's Persuasion, By the Book is a delightful updating of that classic. Anne's sister, Lauren, turns out to be not such a harpy, as the two sisters bond in shared grief. Larry, Anne's gay colleague, and friend is exceptionally supportive and often hilarious. Anne discovers that "all that glitters is not gold" but will she and Adam have their "happy ever after.?" 

Thanks to Gallery and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Yukon Wilderness Guessing Game

Rockton Novel #3
Kelley Armstrong
Minotaur Books
February 6, 2018

The third novel in Kelley Armstrong's Rockton series, after City of the Lost and A Darkness Absolute, begins with an unexpected arrival on the landing strip that services an isolated settlement. Rockton, in the Canadian Yukon, is inhabited by people who are running away from their pasts. There is no internet, no electricity, no cell phones, no mail, and no way of getting out. Rockton is surrounded by wilderness, and the only people living outside the town are even further off the grid. The mysterious town council, who operates outside the settlement itself, makes all decisions regarding who is admitted. This time, the council has dropped a significant problem for Town Sheriff Eric Dalton and Detective Casey Duncan. The new arrival is Oliver Brady, and they are told he is a serial killer. The town is supposed to keep him secure for several months, after which his wealthy stepfather will make other arrangements. That's a tall order for Eric and Casey, with a one cell jail, one other deputy, and townsfolk who are supposed to be kept in the dark about their prisoner. News travels, though. Very quickly, factions form; those who believe Brady should be disposed of and those who think he is being deprived of his fundamental civil rights. When he escapes, with what could only be assistance from the inside, and people start dying, Eric and Casey must find him. The fact that the council stands to be paid a considerable sum for a successful resolution (whatever that might be) is not the primary consideration, but the safety of Rockton.

I am a fan of all of Kelley Armstrong's series, from Otherworld, Nadia Stafford, and Cainsville to Rockton. She writes characters that stick with me and has a gift for original settings and stories. I liked This Fallen Prey, but not as much as the first two. The action was well-written but Eric and Casey seem to bounce from one crisis to the next. The question of Brady's innocence or guilt was ongoing and kept me guessing. This Fallen Prey is a transitional book, setting up for new developments and ending with a bit of a cliff-hanger.

Thanks to Minotaur and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3 Stars

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Flavia is Back in England and Brilliant as Ever

Flavia de Luce # 9
Alan Bradley
Bantam Books
February 6, 2018

Flavia is home in 1952 England after her time in Canada in school. The unexpected death of her father has everyone plunged into grief, and the strife between Flavia and her older sisters Ophelia and Daphne (Feely and Daffy) has only escalated. To make things worse, her father's sister, Aunt Felicity, is down from London and making decrees about the future of the girls. Among the decrees is that the beloved family home, Buckshaw, must be sold. Never mind that Flavia is now the sole owner of Buckshaw, thanks to her mother's will. Flavia is "only" twelve, so possibly she will have little input. Flavia de Luce is a twelve-year-old like no other, however. In an attempt to "smooth the waters" long time servant, Dogger, suggests a trip down the river; days of paddling followed by nights at country inns. Upon approaching St. Mildred's-in-the-Marsh the trip takes an unexpected turn. Flavia is trailing her hand through the water and snags a corpse floating just under the surface. St.Mildred's is notorious because it's vicar, Canon Whitbred, was hanged for the poisoning of three parish women, at the Communion rail. The body in the river turns out to be the son of the "Poisoning Parson." What is an intrepid adolescent chemist/ sleuth to do but ferret out the solution to this mystery?

Describing the plot of a Flavia de Luce novel is always tricky, because of their sheer inventiveness and one might even say unbelievability. How does a twelve-year-old get involved in all these odd situations? The answer is that Flavia has one of the most original voices in fiction; brilliant, funny, and ultimately, touching. I sometimes forget between books how much I enjoy her until I am in the midst of the story again. Flavia's "cases" are often ghoulish but always offset the ghoulishness with humor. The loyal Dogger takes center stage along with Flavia in The Grave's a Fine and Private Place. Dogger is still suffering from the effects of his captivity in a WWII POW camp in Burma. Flavia's father and Dogger were captives together and formed an unbreakable bond. That bond is now transferred to Flavia and her sisters. Dogger shows signs of coming to terms with his hideous memories and the two make a formidable team. Flavia is growing up and the relationships among the sisters settling down at least somewhat. A slightly rushed ending is my only caveat but it didn't detract from my enjoyment.

Thanks to NetGalley and Bantam for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING-5 Stars