Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Inspector Day in Darkest England

THE BLACK COUNTRY (Scotland Yard's Murder Squad #2)
Alex Grecian
Putnam Adult
May 2013

Rawhead and Bloody Bones
Steals naughty children from their homes,
Takes them to his dirty den,
And they are never seen again.

The Rawhead and Bloody Bones nursery rhyme, part of British folklore since the 17th century, plays a prominent part in the second adventure of Inspector Day of Scotland Yard's "Murder Squad". The Yard has been contacted by the village constable in the coal-mining village of Blackhampton in the Midlands. Members of a prominent mining family have gone missing; father, wife and youngest child. Inspector Day has been given only two days to look into the case. Accompanying him is his assistant, Sargeant Hammersmith, and joining them later is Dr. Kingsley, a pioneer in forensic science for The Yard.

The village of Blackhampton is truly the "Black Country" of the title. Not only is it covered in coal dust; it is slowly dying and actually sinking into the earth. Over the years so many tunnels have been dug under the village homes and businesses in pursuit of coal it is only a matter of time until the earth reclaims it. The villagers are uncooperative and steeped in superstition. They, and we, know that there is more to the disappearances than meets the eye. Half the village and more has been stricken with disease since the Prices went missing, and on top of that- there is a strange man lurking around the village- one who closely resembles the bogeyman, "Rawhead and Bloody Bones".

The Black Country is rich in mystery, history and village characters. Inspector Day is a "straight arrow" who has a self-deprecating manner and a real gift for getting to the bottom of the human motivations in a case. Sargeant Hammersmith is prickly, opinionated and absolutely dedicated to the pursuit of justice. By the time the case is solved they have overcome challenges of biblical proportions. My only quibbles are a couple of plot holes that are never fully resolved, or even noticed by Day and Hammersmith. I was so caught up that I barely noticed until I had completely finished the book.

I am looking forward to the next installment in the series; hopefully it will be back in London. This visit to the provinces was engrossing, but I would like to see more of 1890's London and Dr. Kingsley. Be warned, The Black Country is a real page-turner.

RATING- 4 Stars

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Time Travel Mystery to the Ripper's London

Shelley Dickson Carr
New Book Partners
December 2012

Ripped by Shelly Dickson Carr is an entertaining YA adventure through the London of 1888, where Jack the Ripper has launched his reign of terror in the fog shrouded streets. Katie Lenox is a thoroughly modern American girl who has lost her parents in an automobile accident and now lives with her grandmother in London. Not only is she mourning their loss, she feels that she has lost her older sister, Courtney, who does not get along with her grandmother. 

Katie is settling in as well as might be expected with the help of her cousin Collin. She and Collin are visiting a Jack the Ripper Exhibit at Madame Tussaud's along with Collin's friend, Toby. After a chilling tour at the waxworks they visit the Stone of London, where Katie sticks her finger in a fissure in the stone and finds herself in 1888 London. Katie decides to try to find out who Jack the Ripper is, and perhaps alter his bloody history. She finds the 1888 counterparts of Collin and Toby on hand to help her.

Ripped is very fast moving and convoluted; perhaps a little too convoluted to resolve satisfactorily. The historical detail is well-researched- when the list of Ripper victims at the Exhibit included names that are not in the historical record, the reader knows that something interesting is going on. When Katie discovers that a female relative is on the the list, the quest to stop Jack becomes even more urgent.

I initially liked the inclusion of "Cockney Rhyming Slang" in the book, but found it a bit distracting by the end. The slang is certainly creative, but used a little too often for my taste. Ripped kept me turning the pages however and I would recommend it for a 12 and up audience who are interested in history with some mystery and thrills.

Thanks to netgalley for a digital advance copy.

RATING- 3 Knives

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Breathtaking New Fantasy from Anne Bishop

Anne Bishop
New American Library
March 2013

Those of us who have read Anne Bishop's Black Jewel novels know all about her unparalleled ability to build complex, multilayered and breathtakingly imaginative fantasy worlds. In Written in Red, she has ventured into urban fantasy territory with the same assurance. Written in Red shows us a contemporary world peopled by humans and "The Others": vampires, shape-shifters and the elementals, who embody the forces of nature itself. Unlike other urban fantasy worlds, the Others are the actual landlords and the humans exist only on sufferance. Unfortunately, despite uneasy coexistence, the humans tend to forget that they are holding none of the cards on occasion. 

Meg Corbyn is a cassandra sangue, a blood prophet prized by her human captors for her prophesies which are revealed by the cutting of her skin. Meg and the other women in her "benevolent institution" have been systematically mistreated. Meg manages to escape into a brutal winter where she stumbles into The Courtyard, a settlement of Others led by Simon Wolfgard. The Courtyard is one of the few progressive settlements allowing any access to humans. She sees a sign in the window of Simon's bookstore, Howling Good Reads (gotta love that!). The settlement is looking for a Human Liaison and Meg is desperate enough to apply. Simon is no fuzzy wolf looking for love; in fact he dislikes and distrusts humans as much as any of the Others. But his instincts tell him to give her a chance even though he knows she is not telling the truth about herself. Meg is grateful for a job, shelter and the fact that human law does not apply inside The Courtyard, but she also knows her Controller will stop at nothing to get her back. Can she, The Courtyard and the nearby human city of Lakeside survive the coming storm? 

Written in Red is not a short book and some may find it a bit slow moving. There are multiple story lines involving a decent human cop named Montgomery, and Asia Crane, a human woman stupid enough to try to scam The Others. I really enjoyed getting to know all the characters and watching trust develop between the Others and Meg. She has been institutionalized all her life and seeing her learn how to function in her new environment is both amazing and touching. It's clear in the end that Meg has found her place in the world. It is also clear that there is much, much more to tell so I must look forward to the next book in the series. Written in Red is sometimes terrifying and sometimes beautiful- a must read.

RATING- 5 Wolf Howls