Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Last Detective

THE LAST DETECTIVE (Peter Diamond # 1)
Peter Lovesey
SoHo Crime 
August 19, 2014

The Last Detective is a book that has been on my vast "to be read" list for a very long time. First published in 1992, it won the Anthony Boucher Award for Best Mystery Novel in that year and was considered groundbreaking. Overweight, technophobic, irascible and blunt to the point of rudeness, Peter Diamond was a different type of detective in British Crime fiction. I think I may have read one or two of the series but never the book that started it all. 

Set in Bath and Bristol, the nude body of a woman is found floating in the reservoir. The first challenge is to find out who she is in the absence of clothing, identification, jewelry or a wedding ring. Not even the cause of death is immediately apparent, but Diamond is sure that it was no suicide. Sending out a photo of the dead woman is the only solution when no woman matching her description has been reported missing. Diamond is first amused, then annoyed when a number of calls come in identifying her as a character in a long-running soap opera on TV. By the time this case is solved the lives of all who knew, loved or hated her are turned upside down; even the life of Peter Diamond.

I greatly enjoyed The Last Detective.The inclusion of undiscovered, then missing Jane Austen letters as part of the plot were a plus for me. The story was told in multiple viewpoints; most of which are unreliable in one way or another. There is plenty of humor and some pointed social commentary. Even after 25 years,The Last Detective holds up well.

Thanks to NetGalley and SoHo for a digital copy of this reissued crime classic in return for an honest review.

RATING-4 Stars

Friday, July 22, 2016

An Untimely Frost

Penny Richards
Kensington Books
July 26, 2016

An Untimely Frost is the first volume of a new series set in 1880's middle America. Lilly Long is a young woman, orphaned at an early age and taken in by a traveling theatrical troupe. Lilly has developed into an accomplished actress but made a bad choice in her scoundrel of a new husband. After he attacks her and absconds with her life savings, Lilly decides that she needs to make a change. She is intrigued by an advertisement by the prestigious Pinkerton Detective Agency. The Pinkertons are looking for a female agent. Allan Pinkerton has hired women before with great success and Lilly thinks her acting experience would be a plus.The two Pinkerton sons, William and Robert, are not so enthusiastic however. Her first interview is a flop but Lilly manages by using her skills to get herself hired anyway. Her first assignment is a missing persons case in the small town of Vandalia, IL. One of the town's preachers and his family disappeared twenty years earlier, leaving a large property derelict. Lilly's client has hired the Pinkertons to find the family in order to purchase the property, Heaven's Gate. People in Vandalia don't want to talk to Lilly and she senses a deeper mystery than a missing persons case. And who is the handsome boxer who seems to turn up wherever she goes? Lilly's first assignment leads her into dark secrets and danger, but she refuses to give up.

Lilly Long is the very definition of "plucky" in her dogged pursuit of the truth. I am not as familiar with the constraints placed on women in 1880's America as I am with Britain's idea of propriety in the same period. It seemed to me that Lilly had a lot more freedom of movement and access that I would have expected. Perhaps the respect given to the Pinkerton badge accounts for her relative ease. She is a likable character who makes the sort of rookie mistakes that I would expect from a fledgling investigator; one who is more innocent than she appears. Penny Richards is obviously an author with a lot of experience in her craft, and one who has done her research. An Untimely Frost is a good read and I look forward to the next in the series.

Thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Monday, July 18, 2016

Garden Shows Can be Cut-Throat.

Potting Shed Mysteries # 5
Marty Wingate
Random House Alibi
August 2, 2016

Texas transplant Pru Parke is delighted to be asked to help out with an exhibit at the famous Chelsea Garden Show. The request comes from an old colleague from back in Texas; one who Pru vaguely remembers. The Austin Rock Garden Society (ARGS) is being allowed to construct an exhibit featuring the beloved Texas Bluebonnets. Even though it means leaving her brother, Simon, and new husband, Christopher, back in Hampshire, Pru is eager to get started. The couple has kept their flat in London, so at least she is back on home ground.

Upon her arrival in London, however, Pru finds herself in charge when Twyla Woodford, the president of ARGS is delayed. The other workers have landed, but seem to be more interested in sight-seeing than working, and the mason who is laying a stone wall for the exhibit is progressing at a snail's pace. Worried about the time constraints and the work left to be done, Pru makes an early evening visit to the site and discovers the elusive Twyla. The two women chat about the project and form an immediate bond with their common passion for gardening. Heartened by Twyla's arrival, Pru leaves her only to discover her dead body on the site the next morning, covered by a load of rocks. Who among the crew with their numerous tangled relationships, would want to destroy the show and kill Twyla? Christopher, a former Met Inspector, goes undercover as a worker to both help and protect Pru from the murderer. As Pru has landed herself in hot water before, protection is a very good idea.

The Potting Shed Mysteries is one of my favorite series, full of quirky characters, atmosphere, and garden lore. The relationship of Pru and Christopher is delightful; they may have found each other in mid-life but they are anything but stodgy. Thanks to Alibi and NetGalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review. As always, I look forward to the follow-up to The Bluebonnet Betrayal.

RATING-4.5 Stars

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Troubling and Topical

Wendy Walker
St. Martin's Press
July 12, 2016

The first chapter of All is Not Forgotten is a graphic description of the rape of teenage Jenny Kramer in the woods behind a house in upscale Fairview, CT. The rape itself is horrible but what follows is in some ways even more so. At the hospital, Jenny's parents, Tom and Charlotte, are offered "the treatment", a combination of drugs which will erase Jenny's memories. Tom and Charlotte jump at the chance with varying motivations; Charlotte to just "get past" it and Tom because he is rather passive. Several months later Jenny attempts suicide and it is clear that "the treatment" is not all it is cracked up to be.

All is Not Forgotten is narrated by the psychiatrist who is treating the Kramer family, a family whose marital fissures are exposed in the course of the novel. The doctor is also treating Sean Logan, a soldier who was also given "the treatment" after an incident in Iraq. For his own reasons, the doctor inserts himself into both the lives of the Kramers and the police investigation. The investigation itself is severely hampered by Jenny's lack of memory and the typical small town tendency to want to look outside the community. The collision of all the secrets and hidden motivations in the small, affluent town make for a number of twists leading to an explosive conclusion.

There are the inevitable comparisons to Gone Girl in all the descriptions of All is Not Forgotten. It seems that every psychological thriller these days is compared to it; not having read it, I can't address that. I was totally engrossed in the first third of All is Not Forgotten, but then I began to be bogged down in the neuroscience, the troubles in the Kramer family and above all, the very creepy narration of the doctor. I found his manipulations and motives deeply troubling, as well as the moral and ethical issues it raised. There are plenty of issues to be discussed, making All is Not Forgotten ideal book club fare. I won't go so far as to say that I enjoyed the book, but I found it exceptionally well-written and suspenseful throughout.

Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martins for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 3 Stars

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Poisonous Cat Show

TILL DEATH DO US TART (Oxford Tearoom #4)
H. Y. Hanna
Wisheart Press
July 2016

Gemma Rose's Oxford tearoom is doing so well that she feels it is time to move out of her parent's home into a place of her own. The problem is that flats in Oxford are ruinously expensive. Meanwhile, Gemma's overbearing and somewhat ditsy mother is still trying to match-make Gemma and a successful doctor. Never mind that Gemma and her former boyfriend, Oxford detective Devlin O'Connor, have rekindled their old romance. 

Till Death Do Us Tart opens at a local cat show where Gemma's mother insists on entering Muesli, against Gemma's wishes. Muesli is a smart and adorable cat, but hardly a purebred. Her fears are not misplaced when she finds Muesli stationed between a prize-winning Persian and a Siamese. The two owners are an over-bearing academic and a paranoid woman who accuses Gemma of trying to poison her cat. When the obnoxious academic drops dead in the middle of the show the fun begins. The doctor on-site declares it a heart attack but the "Biddies" and Gemma's mom are sure it is MURDER. While Gemma is trying to keep the "sleuths" in order, she is also dealing with accidents in the tearoom kitchen and flat hunting.

Till Death Do Us Tart is the fourth of the Oxford Tearoom Mysteries. I love the setting, humor and the characters in the books. I highly recommend them as complete escape reading with lots of humor and mystery. I look forward to more in the series. Many thanks to the author for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4 Stars