Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Darker Shade of Miss Fisher

Phryne Fisher # 12
Kerry Greenwood
Poisoned Pen Press
September 5, 2017

Murder in Montparnasse takes us back to a time when Miss Fisher was more innocent and less worldly wise, despite her experience as an ambulance driver in WWI. Footloose in Paris, she is intimate with artistic and literary figures, earning her living as a much in demand artist's model, and generally enjoying her freedom. However, she meets a thoroughly evil individual named Rene DuBois and promptly falls for him. Despite warnings from her friends, Phyrne learns the hard way just how wicked Rene is. She escapes him, but the experience colors her memories of Paris ever after. Meantime, her future cronies in Australia, Cec and Bert, are also in Paris with five other soldiers. On a rowdy night, the seven soldiers witness a murder but are too drunk to do anything about it. Years later, two of the soldiers are dead in quick succession in Australia. The deaths are ruled accidents, but Cec and Bert know that can't be true. Phryne is working on another case, that of a kidnapped girl but also wants to help them. The intersection of the three cases brings about some rough Australian justice for all.

I am reading the Miss Fisher Mysteries wildly out of order, but it seems to me that each one can be read as a stand-alone. No doubt it helps that I have seen all the episodes of the TV series. There are differences but nothing that is problematic, at least not for me. Each is a romp through a different time and place, with an unforgettable and unconventional heroine. I particularly enjoyed the integration of real historical figures like Djuna Barnes, Sylvia Beach, and Pablo Picasso. This Phryne Fisher story is a little darker than others I have read, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Thanks to NetGalley and The Poisoned Pen for an advance digital copy. The opinions above are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, August 28, 2017

A Perfumed Murder in Paris

Amory Ames #4
Ashley Weaver
St. Martin's Minotaur
September 5, 2017

The fourth entry in the Amory Ames mystery series begins in Lake Como where Amory and Milo Ames are on holiday. The Ames are awaiting a visit from Madame Nanette, Milo's childhood nanny. They receive a message from her, canceling the visit and asking that they see her in Paris. Milo was raised by Madam Nanette, rather than his neglectful father, and he is very fond of her. Her message indicates, at least to Milo, that the nanny is worried about something. They take advantage of an offer from a new friend, Andre Duveau, to fly with him in his plane to Paris. Upon their arrival, they find that Madame Nanette's employer, the wealthy and famous perfumer, Helios Belanger, has died after a plane crash that he was piloting.The death was declared a heart attack as Belanger walked away from the crash but died in his sleep the same night. Madame Nanette and Belanger had a romantic liaison in their youth, and she feels that his death might not have been a heart attack. The heirs of Helios Belanger have more than enough motive to go around with an unsettled line of inheritance. Milo and Amory must try to infiltrate the family to get the answers.

There are many things that I enjoy about the series. Weaver paints a vivid picture of the era and the lives of the idle rich. I have always loved the Hollywood movies of the time with their portrayal of the fashions and carefree lifestyles, at least the lifestyles of those who still had money in The Great Depression. It is interesting to read about the perfume industry and the lengths to which some might go to gain ascendancy. However, I find myself losing patience with the marital difficulties of Milo and Amory. I have never trusted Milo with his untruthfulness and cavalier attitude towards the marriage. The Essence of Malice gives more insight into his character and at least his untruthfulness this time was in the service of protecting Amory. There is just too much going on with Milo that needs to be explained. Hopefully, as the series moves into the unsettled times in Europe of the 1930's, that explanation will come.

Thanks to St. Martin's Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions above are my own.

RATING- 3 Stars

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache # 13
Louise Penny
St. Martin's Minotaur
August 29, 2017

Glass Houses begins with Armand Gamache on the witness stand. No doubt he has been there many times, but never have we seen him give testimony. It quickly becomes apparent that this is no ordinary trial but one that Gamache takes personally. Additionally, the Crown Prosecutor is taking a very adversarial tone with Gamache, oddly because they are supposed to be on the same side. The murder in question is personal for Gamache since it took place in Three Pines. It all began on the day after Halloween of the previous year when the adults of Three Pines have their Halloween party; the night before being reserved for the children. An apparition clad in a robe, black gloves, a hood, and mask appears at the gathering, unmoving and silent. The party breaks up, and the figure takes his place on the green, where he remains for more than two days and nights. No one sees him move and the village is thoroughly unnerved. Why is he there, and more importantly, for whom? When he is finally absent one morning all of Three Pines is relieved, but perhaps one or more inhabitants are especially relieved.

There is always more than one story being told in Louise Penny's long running series, and Glass Houses is no exception.Gamache is a year into his new position as Chief Superintendent of the Quebec Sureté and fighting a losing battle with the opioid epidemic. Drugs are coming into Canada in vast quantities as well as being smuggled across the border into the US. He has had little success and not only the Sureté but the general public is taking notice. Gamache, however, has a plan, one that is shocking in its audacity, setting up a moral dilemma for Gamache and his subordinates. They are gambling literally everything on the plan's success. Louise Penny does a masterful job of tying together the two disparate stories. She uses misdirection but all the pieces are there. When it becomes clear how the events come together and who the responsible party is, I was surprised that I didn't see it sooner. Then I realized that I just didn't want to see it.

Our familiar friends in Three Pines are somewhat peripheral to the investigation in Glass Houses, at least until the explosive end. They are not the focus of the story but as always provide much of the heart. Gamache's colleagues in the Sureté play a much larger part especially Beauvoir and Isabelle Lacoste. Both have risen to higher levels of responsibility and are, on the whole, loyal to Gamache and the plan. A new Gamache novel is always a red-letter event and Glass Houses is one of her best.

Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin's Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions above are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Friday, August 18, 2017

Racing Through Time In Search of Salvation

Daniel H. Wilson
Doubleday Books
August 1, 2017

June Stefanov is sixteen when her grandfather, a veteran of the Seige of Stalingrad, presents her with an odd relic and the tale of an "angel" who saved him on the battlefield. His savior dropped the relic, and the grandfather has hidden it away ever since. He gives it to June in the belief that she can find out its secrets but warns her to never show it to anyone. June has become an anthropologist specializing in ancient technologies and while working under a grant from a mysterious conglomerate and examining a mechanical doll, is plunged into a world of violence and beings that she could never have imagined.  There are robots, "avtomat," immensely old and powerful walking in her world, and what they are seeking is the very relic she possesses. She is saved from what assuredly would be death by another avtomat, Peter. 

June and Peter embark on a trip back in time through Peter's memories ranging from 3000 BC China, the reign of Peter the Great and London in 1725 right up to World War II and the present day. Told in alternating chapters, Peter's life, and that of his "sister" Elena, are a fascinating tale of blending into the human populace with greater or lesser success. However, the avtomat are finally dying out, cannibalizing and waging war on each other. The factions think that June's relic will be the answer to survival.

I have read some steampunk in the past and enjoyed it, but I have to admit that the gorgeous cover of Clockwork Dynasty sold me. It is a genre-bending, high action fantasy read that kept me immensely entertained throughout. I need to point out that there is a lot of graphic violence that should be taken into account by sensitive readers. I recommend it for fantasy lovers of all kinds looking for something different, and those who prefer a strong female lead.

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

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Darkly Humorous and Heart-Wrenching

Graham Norton
Atria Books
August 1, 2017

Holding is a mystery wrapped in a story of life in the remote Irish village of Duneen in County Cork. Sergeant PJ Collins has been constable in the village for 15 years when a long awaited crime occurs in the form of human bones turned up on a construction site. The very overweight and lonely 53-year-old Collins has always been certain that he could prove himself, if only if he had a real crime. He begins to investigate but has only a short time before the policemen from Cork arrive. In speaking with the villagers, the name Tommy Burke pops up. Young Tommy Burke was supposedly seen with a suitcase boarding a bus about twenty years previously, leaving two young women broken-hearted. An often told story is that of the two girls coming to blows in the street. One, Evelyn Ross, still lives with her two spinster sisters. The other, Brid Riordan, lives in Duneen as well, sunk in an unhappy marriage and drinking herself into a stupor daily. Other villagers have an interest in the bones, and in keeping the secrets associated with them.

While Holding takes the form of a mystery, it is more about how the choices we make, or have made for us, can color the rest of our lives. It is darkly comic in places and heart-wrenching in others. The village itself becomes a character in its own right, filled with all-too-human beings. I was only vaguely aware of Graham Norton's career as a TV and Radio presenter and talk show host, but I am sure that he can expand into writing novels if TV ever falls through for him. This is an impressive debut. Thanks to Atria Books and Netgalley for an advance copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Final Egyptian Excavation with the Peabody/Emerson Clan

THE PAINTED QUEEN (Amelia Peabody #20)
Elizabeth Peters, Joan Hess
Harper Audio, Narrated by Barbara Rosenblat
July 25, 2017

I was saddened by the death of Elizabeth Peters (Barbara Mertz), not only as it signaled the end of the Amelia Peabody series, but all the many books written in her various pen names. She was an author uniquely beloved by her readers and also her many friends. One of the closest of her friends, Joan Hess, undertook the daunting task of producing a final novel taken from Peters' notes at the request of the family. The Painted Queen is the product of three years of labor by Hess in which she put her own career largely on hold. I think that even with some problems in timelines and characterization, the book is a success. I can't imagine how difficult it would be to try to assume another writer's voice.

The Painted Queen takes place during the 1912 excavation season, just after the Emerson's adoptive daughter Nefret's disastrous marriage and widowhood. Nefret and Ramses, the Emerson's son, are estranged over that episode and tensions are running high. A bust of Nefertiti has vanished, along with the head excavator, and forgeries are popping up all over Cairo. To add to the mix, the family of Nefret's dead husband, the Godwins, are trying to take revenge by assassinating Amelia and Rameses. Never mind that he brought his death on himself. There are a number of them, five of the six Godwin sons, but they are no match for the redoubtable Amelia and Emerson. All comes right in the end, with chases, narrow escapes, and suspense to the last page. Some of the characterizations, especially those of our old Egyptian friends seem subtly off, and Hess's humor is not quite like Peters. Still, I was glad to have this one last adventure with old friends.

RATING-4 Stars