Thursday, July 24, 2014

A decidedly dark turn for the Dylan Scott series

DEAD END (Dylan Scott #7)
Shirley Wells
Carina Press
July 7, 2014

Things are not going well for the Scott family even though the PI business is finally off the ground and paying the bills (mostly). Dylan's wife, Bev, is undergoing treatment for cancer and Dylan has been receiving threatening phone calls. Dylan is very worried, as he has made plenty of enemies both from his days on the force and as a PI. Dylan's old colleague "Pikey" is less concerned because everyone knows that people who really want to kill you just do it; not make threats. Retired Inspector Frank Willoughby is of a different opinion however. He is concerned enough to offer to come down from the North and watch over Bev, the kids and Dylan's aging hippie mother under the cover of a visit.

Dylan narrows the suspects down to a group that he and "Pikey" sent away on a huge drug bust. Rumor has it that the bust was a set-up and the group is out for revenge. Meanwhile, a series of kidnappings and wholesale slaughter of families is happening in London. We get a chilling glimpse into the mind of the very sick individual responsible. Can this be connected? Dylan is running hard to find out who is threatening his family; without letting Bev know what is going on.

Dead End is high action and convoluted, taking a much darker tone than earlier books in the series. Shirley Wells paints such an accomplished portrait of the Scott family that it is impossible not to be emotionally invested. Bev's worries and concerns about her future and Dylan's fear for his family makes a very stressful combination. It all comes to an explosive conclusion that I really did not see coming and changes everything for Dylan. I am looking forward as always to the next book in the series. I highly recommend the series, as well as her earlier "Jill and Max" series to lovers of very British mysteries.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A GRAVE MATTER (A Lady Darby Mystery #3)
Anna Lee Huber
Berkeley Trade
July 2014

After  the death of an old friend with a tragic history of his own, Kiera, Lady Darby, retreats to her family home on the Scottish Borders. She is restless and depressed, not even finding consolation in her art, and her relationship with Sebastian Gage is still unresolved. Even though she and Gage have cooperated in two successful investigations, she finds Gage's secretiveness troubling and her own feelings confusing. She hopes that the annual festive Hogmanay Ball will lift her spirits. The ball however is interrupted by a visitor from a neighboring estate. There has been a grave robbing and the murder of an elderly caretaker; unlike most such events, the grave contains only the bones, not a fresh corpse. She contacts Gage and the two discover several other similar incidents in which a ransom has been demanded for the return of the bones. The investigation leads the two on a complicated path fraught with many suspects and motives, leading them into considerable danger.

I had very mixed feelings about the first book in the series, The Anatomist's Wife, but the second, Mortal Arts, gave me a little more understanding of both Kiera and Gage. Both the investigation and the relationship issues come to to very satisfactory conclusion in A Grave Matter. I doubt that all will be "happy ever after" for the two though! Both have had traumatic pasts that don't just resolve easily and both of them have a long way to go. The Lady Darby series is well-written and plotted, making for a very enjoyable read. 

I received an Advanced Readers Copy of A Grave Matter through a giveaway in return for an honest review.

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Promising New Forensic Duo in Historical Mystery

Imogen Robertson
Tantor Media
March 2011

Set primarily in London and Sussex in 1780, Instruments of Darkness is the debut novel of the Crowther and Westerman series. Mrs. Harriet Westerman is raising her children and running her estate in the absence of her sea captain husband, James. When she finds a murdered man on her land during a morning walk she enlists the aid of her reclusive neighbor, the famous anatomist Gabriel Crowther. Harriet is no squeamish miss, having been to sea with her husband and seen what violent death looks like. A ring is found on the dead man that links him to the seat of the nearby Earl of Sussex, Thornleigh Hall. On the same day, Alexander Adams, proprietor of a London music shop is murdered in front of his young children, Susan and Jonathan.

There are a myriad of plot lines in Instruments of Darkness; an invalid earl with a sinister reputation, his missing heir, his second son who came home scarred and changed by his service in the Royal Army in the American Revolution, the Earl's beautiful and much younger wife and a very dodgy steward. How all these characters (along with many others) and plots connect to resolve the mystery make for an engrossing read. Ms. Robertson writes more well-rounded characters than I have read in quite a while; somehow she manages to keep them distinct. I was charmed in particular by the sweetness and strength of nine-year old Susan.

My only quibble was the constant jumping from place to place in order to juggle what the London and Sussex characters were doing at any time. It may be that I would not have felt this to be a drawback had I read the book rather than listened to the audio book. The narrator was excellent but I found myself confused at times. Despite that, I really enjoyed Instruments of Darkness and plan to read the others in the series very soon.

RATING- 4 Stars

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Wowed Again by Cormoran Strike and JK Rowling

Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
Narrated by Robert Glenister
Little Brown
June 19, 2014

When we first met Cormoran Strike in The Cuckoos's Calling he was down on his luck, having lost the lower part of his leg in Afghanistan and his career as an investigator with the British Army. He is having little success and has been reduced to sleeping in his office. A very big case comes his way though, that of the supposed suicide of a supermodel. When Cormoran proves that the death was a murder and one-ups the Metropolitan Police, he finds himself with more business than he can handle and is working every minute of the day and night. Thankfully he has his stalwart assistant/apprentice, Robin Ellacott, to keep the business on an even keel.

While Cormorant is glad to be working and digging himself out of a financial mess, he is really tired of dealing with the parade of rich, vengeful wives and entitled "City" types coming through his office. When the dowdy wife of missing novelist, Owen Quine, asks him to find her husband he takes on the case, even though he doubts he will ever be paid. Quine began as somewhat of a literary enfant terrible with his first novel but has written a series of scurrilous and distasteful books since. At this point in his career he is a parody of the "literary author" stereotype and barely surviving on his book sales. When Quine disappears and parts of the manuscript of his newest work are "leaked" people sit up and take notice. Quine has written a poisonous and probably legally actionable novel in which many leading lights of the publishing world are portrayed, barely disguised. Cormoran finds Owen's gruesomely slaughtered corpse and the wife is chief suspect; all  his other cases fall by the wayside. Cormoran is certain that she is not guilty. 

There is a panoply of richly realized characters in The Silkworm; the emotionally stunted novelist's wife, the gruff and mannish agent, the egotistical best-selling author, the repressed publishing house CEO, Quine's mentally handicapped daughter, and a host of others. The mystery is amazingly twisty and I admit that I did not have a clue who could be such a cold-blooded and crafty murderer. Cormoran is a character one has to like while simultaneously wishing to give him a good "head smack". His tenacity leads him into self-destructive behavior that places health and well-being into jeopardy. Robin is much more than an apprentice and loyal side-kick. Outside of the case, life goes on with what is hopefully the end of Cormoran's dysfunctional relationship with on and off girlfriend, Charlotte; and Robin has her own issues with her self- involved fiance, Matthew.

Robert Glenister is a masterly narrator. It seems to me that he has a command of both London and regional accents which make all the voices of The Silkworm both distinct and memorable.
Whether listening or reading, I highly recommend The Silkworm to all mystery fans. It is perhaps a bit long in getting to the solution but Rowling's style more than makes up for it.

RATING- 5 Stars