Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Reckoning (John Madden #4)

THE RECKONING (John Madden #4)
Rennie Airth
Viking Penguin
August 2014

It is always a red-letter day for me when I hear of a new book in the John Madden series from Rennie Airth. They are so few and far between and I have been a fan since River of Darkness (1999). The structure of the series is very interesting as it spans the years from the early 1920's until this latest, The Reckoning, set in 1947.

The Reckoning begins with Oswald Gibson, retired bank manager, fishing at his favorite spot. The peace of the afternoon is shattered when he is approached, forced to kneel and shot execution style. Who could have wanted to kill such a inoffensive individual, and in such a way?  DI Billy Styles of Scotland Yard is called in when this killing is linked to an earlier one in Scotland; a doctor was killed in his office with the same type of distinctive bullet. When Gibson's brother finds an unfinished letter to the Yard asking about John Madden, Billy's old chief, Billy wastes no time in asking for his help. Madden left the Yard years ago when he married but Billy know he could be of great help. The killings continue but Madden and Billy are hot on the trail of a most unusual killer.

The Madden books revolve around the effects of war on Britain from WWI to WWII. The Reckoning circles back to an event in WWI that Madden was involved in and has resolutely tried to forget. As always Airth brings life in Britain in the period to vivid life. His characters are unforgettable. I especially appreciate the addition of Lily Poole, first seen in The Dead of Winter. Lily is an ambitious female Detective Constable, one of the first to navigate the treacherous waters of the male dominated Yard. The Reckoning is a great read that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and mystery. Reading the first three books is not a requirement but adds to the overall enjoyment.

I received this book as part of the First to Read Program in return for an honest review. Thanks!

RATING- 4.5 stars

Monday, August 18, 2014

Murder in Coal Country

Tawni O'Dell
Simon and Schuster/Gallery Books
August 19, 2014

Dr. Sheridan Doyle is a celebrity forensic psychologist, a TV friendly consultant for the Philadelphia District Attorney Office. He is urbane, well-heeled and extremely well dressed. Underneath he is still Danny Doyle; the same awkward and bullied boy who grew up friendless in Lost Creek, a Pennsylvania coal-country town. Danny's childhood was a horror story of abuse by his alcoholic father and the stigma of a mother who was convicted of killing Danny's infant sister. His only positive influences were his grandfather, Tommy, and a local cop , Rafe Malloy. No wonder he always wanted to get out of Lost Creek and managed to get an Ivy League education through academic and athletic scholarships. However it has been a classic case of the healer being unable to heal himself.  All his high end apparel is just armor, Superman's cape in  the form of an Armani. When he receives word that his 96 year old grandfather has been ill Danny packs up for a visit home to check on him, Danny returns with the greatest trepidation. He loves his grandfather but visits to his home town always bring on nightmares and panic attacks.

America is dotted with hundreds and maybe thousands of dead factory towns and agricultural communities. The jobs have left but the people seem to hang on. Lost Creek is in a class by itself though: the legends surrounding the Nellie O'Neils permeate the air. The O'Neils were  a group of young Irish miners executed by hanging after agitating, sometimes with violence, for better working conditions. Most of the people living in Lost Creek are direct descendants of the O'Neils, Danny included. Even the gallows are preserved by the town. The Dawes family, the mine owners directly responsible for the rigged trial that sent at least eight innocent young men of the the ten executed to their deaths still live in Lost Creek. The Dawes are obscenely rich but the out- of- work miners are, if possible, worse off than ever before. On his first morning home Danny goes out for a run and discovers a dead body at the foot of the gallows; one with connections to the Dawes family. Danny and Rafe team up to find the killer, a long-absent Dawes family returns to Lost Creek and more murders occur.

I have always been a fan of novels that explore the ways that past evils can trickle down to affect the present. One of Us is an extraordinarily atmospheric and well written novel. One can almost see the dreariness of winter in Western Pennsylvania and the decay so evident in Lost Creek. Told in two voices, that of Danny and the killer, One of Us is mesmerizing and thought provoking with an underlying mystery that is well constructed. I can't say enough about the characterization though. Danny, Rafe and especially Tommy are entirely believable; all flawed men trying to get though life as best they can. The killer is also chillingly believable.

I highly recommend  One of Us for readers of mystery, literary fiction and psychological thrillers. Thanks to and Simon and Schuster for an advance digital reading copy.

RATING- 5 stars

Friday, August 15, 2014

Fool's Assassin- I have really missed you, Fitz!

FOOL'S ASSASSIN (Fitz and The Fool Trilogy #1)
Robin Hobb
Del Rey Books
August 12, 2014

I am so happy that Robin Robb has returned to the world of the Six Duchies and to Fitz and the Fool for another trilogy I can barely contain myself. After my less than pleased (Ok, I hated it) reaction to the Soldier Son Trilogy, I had pretty much given up. But when I saw the galley on I requested it right away. Thanks, netgalley and Del Rey!

After an absence of about 10 years, the details of the Farseer and Tawny Man were pretty hazy. But Fool's Assassin was so easy to get into that I remembered much more than I had thought I would. Fitz has been settled, as Tom Badgerlock, at Withywoods with his beloved Molly. The Fool has completely disappeared from his life, a fact that pains Fitz, but life in general is peaceful and pleasant. It is sad that Molly is aging and Fitz is not as a result of a Skill-Healing, and that they have not had a child of their own in their middle years. The roiling politics of Buckkeep Castle have intruded only minimally because Fritz won't be sucked in. Anyone who knows Fitz also knows that the peaceful life can't last forever. It is extremely difficult to write a review of  Fool's Assassin without spoilers so that is all I have to say about the plot.

Robin Hobb is unsurpassed in her characterization and world-building. Many of the well-known characters appear in Fool's  Assassin and we are introduced to several new ones. There is a second narrator, besides Fitz; one whose voice is arresting as his. I loved the details of life at Withywoods with a minor caveat: all those details tended to drag down the narrative pace in places. That is my only complaint however as I thoroughly enjoyed the book, even the cliff-hanging end. I highly recommend Fool's Assassin.

RATING 4.5 stars

THE YANKEE CLUB (Jake and Laura # 1)
Michael Murphy
August 12, 2014

The Yankee Club is a very promising beginning to a noir mystery series with echoes of The Thin Man. Mystery author Jake Donovan is returning to 1933 NYC after a two year absence spent in Florida. He has been concentrating on his writing but the main reason he left NY is that his long-time love, Broadway actress Laura Wilson, refused his marriage proposal one time too many. His reason for the visit is a meeting with his editor who doesn't like the ending of his newest book. In the first few hours after his return he gets shot, a close friend is killed in the same attack and Jake finds out that Laura is engaged to a rich banker. Jake sets out to find out who killed his friend, with Laura's help. In the process the two get tangled up with fascists, a visiting Nazi official and nefarious plots against President Roosevelt.

The central mystery of The Yankee Club was very well done indeed and reflected the unsettled times. The Great Depression made the US a very unsafe place, a breeding ground for crime and desperation. The atmosphere as well was very evocative of the times and I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of real characters like Cole Porter, Dashiell Hammet, Lillian Hellman and Joseph Kennedy, Sr. Jake and Laura also have supporting helpers as colorful as any Damon Runyon might have created. However, I was not as taken with Jake and Laura as I had hoped. They both seemed a little thin and I was not particularly engaged by them but the book was a fast and enjoyable read. I have hopes for the next book, which is coming in early 2015. Recommended for fans of historical mystery and noir.

Thanks to and Alibi for an advance reading copy.