Thursday, February 25, 2021

A Community in Flames

Aaron Falk #1
Jane Harper
Flatiron Books
January 10, 2017

The outback Australian farming town of Kiewarra has been suffering through years of drought. Businesses have closed, farms are failing, and the only really viable concern in town is the pub. Tempers are high, but everyone is shocked when a local farm family is shotgunned to death, and it appears that the father did it and then killed himself. The parents of the father, Luke Hadler, refuse to believe that he could have done such a thing. So they call in Aaron Falk, now an Australian Federal Agent specializing in financial crimes, to investigate. The last place on earth Aaron wants to be is Keiwarra. He, Luke, and Ellie Deacon were inseparable as children. The three formed a sort of adolescent romantic triangle as teenagers, and when Ellie was forcibly drowned in the river, Kiewarra decided that one or both boys must have done it. The two alibied each other, but Aaron has never been sure of Luke since Luke refused to say where he really was. The result was that Aaron and his widowed father were literally driven out of town. Luke managed to stay and put it all behind him.

The Dry is an intensely atmospheric thriller. One can feel the heat and see it shimmer off the roads. Kiewarra is a blasted landscape, ready to go up in flames, as are the townspeople. The novel is tightly plotted and filled with believable characters trapped in adverse circumstances, often of their own making. I picked up on the killer of Ellie pretty early on, but the person who killed the Hadler family was a real surprise. I don't know why The Dry sat so long on my "to be read" shelf. It is a most impressive first novel.


Monday, February 15, 2021


Veronica Speedwell # 6
Deanna Raybourn
Berkley Books
March 2, 2021

The Curiosity Club, an organization of brilliant and adventurous women in 1889 London, has asked Veronica Speedwell to mount an exhibit. The exhibit is in honor of Alice Baker-Greene, a renowned mountaineer who recently died in a fall from a peak in the tiny principality of Alpenwald. Veronica, of course, as the newest member, is delighted. Her natural historian partner, Stoker, is also called upon to add his expertise. But when they unpack Alice's effects, which have been shipped from Alpenwald, they discover a piece of evidence indicating her death might not have been accidental. After all, Baker-Greene was an expert mountaineer and had climbed that peak many times. The Princess of  Alpenwald, Gisela, is in London with her retinue to attend the exhibit's opening. However, when they present their findings to the Princess, her Chancellor, and the Baroness, her lady-in-waiting, they are rebuffed; until the Princess disappears without a trace. It seems that there are reasons other than the exhibit that brought the Alpenwalders to London, reasons that threaten the stability of Europe in an anxious time. Having noticed Veronica and Gisele's strong resemblance, the Chancellor and Baroness ask Veronica to impersonate her. It seems that this is not the first time Gisele has disappeared but has always returned. Stoker is entirely opposed to the mad undertaking, but that does not deter her in the least. Immersion into the duty-bound life of a Princess, a spot of breaking and entering, assassination attempts, and a close encounter with Veronica's own family, who never acknowledged her will not stop her.

An Unexpected Peril is another exciting entry in the Veronica Speedwell series, a long time favorite of mine. So many intrepid Victorian lady explorers dared to brave convention and go out to pursue their passions. Sadly, many are not well known. Women were beginning to demand the right to govern their own lives, and it is quite chilling to know what the powers-that-be were willing to do to stop them. I enjoy the characters of Veronica and the way that they are working together to accommodate each other. There are romantic moments, as well as roof-raising disputes. As always, Raybourn injects her own unique humor into the book.

I highly recommend An Unexpected Peril.

Friday, February 12, 2021

The Perils of Fame

Charles Lenox #14
Charles Finch
Minotaur Books
February 16, 2021

After a three-book journey into the beginning years of Charles Lenox's career as a detective, we return to 1878 London. Lenox is thriving and has gained considerable fame. There is a new addition to his household in a baby daughter, quite a surprise since Charles is nearing 50, and his wife, Lady Jane, is in her forties. For weeks, Charles has been embroiled in a  case of corruption involving highly placed inspectors at Scotland Yard. He is looking forward to getting acquainted with the new baby, but fate intervenes. The Queen's Prime Minister, Disraeli, wants him to write up his testimony for the upcoming trial and visit police departments in America to consult on police methods. In reality, Disraeli just wants him out of the country during the trial. Charles is reluctant but has always harbored a desire to travel. The combination of the difficulty of refusing Disraeli and Lady Jane's approval sends him on his way.

Since Lenox is traveling under the Queen's Seal, he is naturally welcomed by all and is accompanied by a seasoned diplomat. However, he suspects that the New York City Police are not all that interested in sharing methods. He is most struck by the considerable wealth he sees, the sense of equality between the classes, and the hold that the Civil War still has on everyone he meets. A diffident young man approaches him named Teddy Blaine, who wants to speak with him about methods, and offers his services. On the train journey to his next stop, Boston, he receives a telegram which sends him to Newport, RI. A young woman has been murdered, and his assistance is requested. Never has Lenox seen such opulence as the "cottages" of Newport. Nor did he foresee a near-death experience and a reordering of his priorities.

I thoroughly enjoyed An Extravagant Death. Not only was it a page-turner, but Finch also sprinkles little pieces of historical trivia into the text. This time, I particularly remember the origins of 'white elephant."  Charles Finch goes from strength to strength in this long-running and delightful series. Thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Secrecy Almost Fails in Rockton


Rockton #6
Kelley Armstrong
Minotaur Books
February 9, 2021

Rockton is a small, secret village in the Canadian Yukon, with a strange history and an even stranger purpose. Originally established about sixty years ago as a refuge for idealistic young people who had run afoul of the "establishment," usually for political views. Since then, it evolved into people who were on the run from the law, wrongly accused or convicted, or hiding from an abusive ex-partner. Lately, though, the governing body, the shadowy "council," seems to let anyone in who has the money, no matter how heinous their crime. Even so, the number of admissions to Rockton seems to be declining, a matter of concern to Sheriff Eric Dalton and his deputy and romantic partner, Casey Duncan. Casey was tricked into coming to Rockton but has found a haven and a purpose.

Secrecy is paramount in Rockton. The council has spent huge sums over the years for the technology to make the small settlement invisible, even to aircraft. However, there are hikers and explorers from time to time. When a female hiker is found nearby, stumbling, badly injured, and delirious, it is alarming. There will undoubtedly be searchers, and when she is conscious, she seems to speak only Danish. A new resident in the village "just happens" to speak Danish and offers to translate. On the heels of this, Emilie, one of the council members and one of the village founders, arrives unexpectedly. Add complications of people from the settlements who split off from Rockton and the "hostiles" who have also split off and gone completely feral, and the story becomes very complicated.

The Rockton series is one that I have eagerly followed from the beginning. Kelley Armstrong builds an entirely believable world in this village and the characters who come and go. However, in reading A Stranger In Town, I was quite often lost in the fast-paced events and new characters appearing. I was somewhat disappointed, but as this is clearly a transitional book, I will just have to wait for the next one. Thanks to Minotaur and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3 Stars

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Head and Shoulders Above the Average Crime Novel

John Hart
February 2, 2020
St. Martins Books

"We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful."

Every time I open a new John Hart crime novel, I know that I am in for a challenging and thrilling read. I also wonder if he can surpass his previous books. The Unwilling does not disappoint. Part family drama, part crime thriller, part coming-of-age story, and part examination of the different aspects of brotherhood, The Unwilling grabs hold immediately and does not let go.

Charlotte, NC detective Bill French and his wife, Gabrielle, have lost more than their fair share in the disastrous Viet Nam War. One son, Robert, was killed less than one year into his deployment. The second son, Jason, came home after almost three tours bitter, alienated, addicted to heroin, and dishonorably discharged. Jason quickly falls into the world of drugs, guns, and biker gangs. The third son, Gibson, is everybody's favorite; athletic, smart, funny, and kind. He will soon graduate from high school and hit 18 when he has to register for the draft. Gibby has no real doubts about what he should do, follow in the footsteps of his brothers. Gibby's best friend, Chance, has different thoughts about his future. Chance has already reached 18 and failed to register.

Jason has been in an infamous prison, built originally in the 1860s, on a drug conviction. It's known as a hellhole, but no one who hasn't been there knows exactly how much. The prison is in the iron control of an infamous criminal known as "X." Jason has been out for several weeks and living in a halfway house in Raleigh but has not contacted his family. Jason does not know, for sure, anyway, that "X" has taken a particular interest in him and wants him back inside. Gibby and Jason reconnect, despite the elder French's wishes. A trip into the countryside with two young women leads to an encounter with a prison bus and one of the young women's hideous death. Jason is immediately a suspect, and when the other young woman disappears, Gibby is suspected as well. Now, Bill French must balance his duties as a policeman, father, and the support of his fragile wife.

In the hands of a lesser writer, "X" would be a cartoonish supervillain, as well as his minion, the detestable Reese. A lesser writer would not be able to draw all the narrative threads into a cohesive whole. There are descriptions of stomach-churning violence and depravity, contrasted with the solid friendship between Gibby, Chance, and Gibby's first love, Becky.
He has created indelible characters that will be with me for a long time, and I would love to see them again. John Hart has been known to do that.

I may have to rethink the whole "star" rating. The Unwilling is head and shoulders above any other crime novel I have read in quite a while. So I will enthusiastically give it two 'thumbs up".
Thanks to St.Martin's and Net Galley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.