Category: Pat's reading
Janet Evanovich: Plum Spooky (2008) ***
Plum Spooky is the third of Evanovich's "between the numbers" Stephanie Plum titles.
I always enjoy the Stephanie Plum books, but I think the trick is to accept that they are total mind candy and not expect much substance or deep character development. This one is true to form in that the plot is almost non-existent, and what there is of a story line doesn't make a lot of sense if you examine it too closely. (It's also NOT spooky, and I really think that Stephanie should be forced to choose between Morelli and Ranger before she gets to canoodle around with anyone else (like Diesel, her third love interest, who appears only in the "between-the-numbers" books)!)
However, those mean-spirited criticisms aside, Plum Spooky supplies what we read Evanovich for --- it's fast, funny and entertaining. Ranger and Morelli make only token appearances, but Stephanie and Lula eat and bumble their way through a new set of whacky adventures: yet another vehicle of Stephanie's gets trashed in a novel way, a troop of monkeys are saved from life in a medical lab, and Stephanie gets to meet the Easter Bunny, a Sasquatch family and Elmer the Fire Farter.
Posted by Pat
J. D. Robb: Promises in Death (2009) ****
I hadn't read one of this series, featuring police lieutenant Eve Dallas in mid-twenty-first century New York,
in a long time and I'd forgotten how much I enjoy them! The action is fast-paced, the characters are interesting, likeable people and the endings are neat and unexpected (but also make perfect sense).
People who like science fiction mysteries will enjoy the futuristic aspect, but if you don't, those touches don't really intrude on the basic story (I notice many of the reviewers don't even mention that the series takes place forty or fifty years in the future --- aside from a few extra gadgets and some minor details, such as the fact that prisons are now on different planets, the adjustments are slight).
In Promises in Death, a fellow policewoman, who happens to be dating the Chief Medical Examiner (one of Eve's closest friends), is murdered in the stairwell of her apartment building with her own weapon. Eve's investigation soon turns up the unwelcome fact that the victim, Amaryllis Coltraine, had recently terminated a romantic entanglement with the son of a major crime boss; the former lover had supposedly severed all ties to his father (who is serving a life sentence on a prison planet, thanks to Eve), but the connection sends up a red flag for Eve. And when the killer sends a package to Eve containing Coltraine's badge and the murder weapon, it seems things are turning downright personal...
posted by Pat
In Honour of Gay Pride Week, the MBTB Blog Presents Gay and Lesbian Detectives!
To help celebrate Gay Pride Week in Regina, I went trolling on the Internet to see what I could find in the way of lists for gay and lesbian detectives.
When I first started to read mysteries back in the 1980s, one of the first series I zeroed in on was Joseph Hansen's Dave Brandstetter series about a gay insurance investigator in California (sadly, RPL doesn't have any of these anymore) and I've read and enjoyed many others since then which featured gay/lesbian detectives or main characters. It's great to see how that niche of mystery writing has truly blossomed over the years, and of course, proudly leading many of these lists --- Saskatchewan's own Anthony Bidulka, with his popular Russell Quant series set in Saskatoon!
While the Lambda Awards page is the Cadillac (Mercedes? Porsche?) of gay writing, celebrating LGBT excellence in all genres as well as non-fiction and poetry, I found their website a little clunky to use if you want to zero in on the mystery genre and see just the mystery award winners over the twenty-one years that the awards have been in existence. Neil Plakcy's website (Neil is the author of the Mahu series about gay Honolulu homicide detective Kimo Kanapa'aka) lists all of the Lambda mystery winners, and also includes Plakcy's own very comprehensive list of authors with gay/lesbian detectives.
Look for other great lists of gay and lesbian detectives at one of our favourite all-round mystery websites, Stop You're Killing Me, and the website of university English professor Martin Kich; each of these provide both authors and main characters for each series. (There are definitely similarities amongst all these lists, but each has its own strengths and weaknesses that make them all worth looking at.) You're guaranteed to find a whole new set of "must-read" series!
Don Winslow: The Dawn Patrol (2008) ***
The Dawn Patrol is half laid-back sun-bleached immersion in California surfer culture, and half deadly-serious exposé of illegal immigrant children being abused in the sex trade by organized crime. It makes for an uncomfortable reading experience (for me, at least) --- one minute you're chuckling at the goofy surfer-dude antics of High Tide, Hang Twelve and Johnny Banzai, the next you're feeling sick at the descriptions of little girls being repeatedly and systematically raped by any slimeball with the price of admission.
"The Dawn Patrol" of the title is a group of long-time friends who gather on the beach at dawn each morning to begin their day by surfing until they all have to disperse to their various lives: one is a lifeguard, one a waitress, one a police officer, etc. The leader of the group, Boone Daniels, is a former cop who quit the force after making what he now feels was the wrong decision --- preventing his partner from torturing a pedophile to make him confess where he was keeping a kidnapped child. The pedophile had to be released for lack of evidence and the child was never found.
Boone is now making ends meet by working as a private investigator, taking just enough cases to put food on the table and allow him to spend most of his time surfing. When he's offered a job by a law firm trying to locate an elusive witness for a court case, it seems like an ideal way to pass the time while he waits for the next big wave to come in --- until the witness, or someone posing as her, is pushed to her death from a hotel balcony.
Winslow is a good writer (I loved his California Fire and Life, which won the Shamus Award for best P.I. novel in 1999) and I did enjoy parts of this one a lot, just found the juxtaposition of goofy and grotesque a little hard to take...
posted by Pat
Susan Wittig Albert: The Tale of Holly How (2005) ****
The Tale of Holly How is by far the coziest mystery I've read in a very long time --- some of the characters in it are animals who wear waistcoats and drink tea, for heaven's sake! Oddly enough, Albert works these details into her story so smoothly and unselfconsciously that it didn't bother me at all; in fact, I enjoyed this book from start to finish, and I can hardly wait to get on to the next one in the series.
The Tale of Holly How is the second in Albert's series featuring real-life children's author Beatrix Potter as the sleuth, and I'm not sure I would have been ready to accept the badger tea party if I hadn't already been softened up by the first book The Tale of Hill Top Farm (in which Beatrix's own animals and the village pets meow and squeak to each other, but none of them is wearing clothes or using utensils). It does help that this book (unlike the first one) also has an actual murder to investigate and solve at the heart of it, but I have to admit that the charm of the characters and the setting is the real appeal of the book.
In The Tale of Holly How, Beatrix is beginning to make friends in the village and is getting on with projects to renovate her newly-acquired farmhouse and restock the farm. She arranges to buy some purebred sheep from a crusty old local farmer, but when she arrives to collect them, she finds the shepherd murdered and the sheep gone...
The other books in the series are:
The Tale of Cuckoo Brow Wood (2006)
The Tale of Hawthorn House (2007)
The Tale of Briar Bank (2008)
posted by Pat
Dave Diotalevi: Miracle Myx (2008) ****½
Miracle Myx is a fabulous read! The mystery is intriguing and takes some good twists and turns along the way, the writing is superb and the viewpoint of the detective, the way he perceives the world, is so unique that it makes for quite an original reading experience.
The book takes place in the small town of Miracle, Massachusetts and the detective is a 14-year-old boy named Myx Amens.
Myx has some unusual qualities, owing to the fact that he has come back from the dead twice. After the first time (when he was struck by lightning), he developed synesthesia, a condition in which a person's sensory pathways cross, so that they taste colours, see the shapes of sounds, etc.; after the second time (when he was drowned in a barrel by the town bully), he no longer sleeps, which allows him to put all those normally idle night-time hours to good use creeping through the houses of sleeping people, on the search for clues in his various investigations. (He also has a photographic memory so detailed that after holding a key in his hand for a few seconds, he can reproduce it from memory in the shop of his locksmith foster father, so he has gradually accumulated keys to most of the doors in town.)
When three grisly murders horrify the town, Myx seems to be the one person who sees the underlying pattern behind the deaths and the significance of the body parts which are mysteriously missing from each corpse. The Chief of Police has used Myx's unique gifts in the past, but will he trust a 14-year-old to help solve a murder?
Elena Forbes: Our Lady of Pain (2008) ****
Our Lady of Pain
A beautiful young art dealer goes jogging in a snowy London park early one morning and vanishes. Two days later, her naked body is discovered in the same park, bound, gagged and bent over as if in prayer. Her friends are distraught and assure police she was a gentle loving creature who must simply have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but when Detective Mark Tartaglia and his partner Sam Donovan search the victim's apartment, they discover a locked trunk at the end of her bed which is full of leather restraints, handcuffs, masks and whips. Are the friends lying or was Rachel Tenison keeping a very dark secret, even from her nearest and dearest?
This is one of those excellent British police procedurals with many flawed and well-drawn characters and a circuitous plot that displays a non-judgemental acceptance of human peccadillos (one of the major clues is a fragment of verse by the Victorian poet Swinburne, who was apparently well-known --- certainly unbeknownst to me! --- as a devotee of sado-masochism). Everyone (particularly the police detectives) drinks like a fish and has difficulty with relationships, but their devotion to the case is unquestionable and in the end, the murder is solved through sheer dogged determination rather than any inspired stroke of genius or intuition. (In this particular example, there are also some nice twists and turns at the end, though I would have liked to see the suspense strung out a little longer...)
This is the second book in the series; the first is
Die with Me (2007)
posted by Pat
Marion Moore Hill: Death Books a Return (2008) **
Juanita Wills, the protagonist of Death Books a Return, is head of the town library in Wyndham, Oklahoma. She lives alone with her dog and is dating the chief of police (they apparently haven't gotten beyond a chaste good-night kiss once in a while, but then they've only been going out for TWO YEARS); he disapproves of her amateur sleuthing (of course) and refuses to even discuss police investigations with her, let alone supply any official information.
Juanita is working on a history of the town and when her research turns up the case of a particularly brutal unsolved murder from the late 1950s, she decides to investigate further. She quickly concludes that the killing was probably racially-motivated --- the victim was from a nearby all-black community and had recently won top honours at a local track meet, making the star athletes from the all-white town high school look bad. The original police investigation was deliberately minimal and all of the witnesses (not to mention the killer or killers) are now in their seventies or older, so Juanita has her work cut out for her as she tries to find justice for Luther Dunlap, the boy who was murdered.
I really tried to like this book, but I just could not do it. I thought the premise was good and I could definitely relate to the setting, but I found the characters wooden and their interactions flat and unbelievable. It was easier to get interested in the circumstances of the murder itself (already fifty years in the past by the time the book begins) than in the present-day trials and tribulations of the sleuth as she tries to solve the crime. (It also sends up a big red flag for me when the author is forced to devote most of a chapter near the end to explaining all of the red herrings and loose ends that she's left hanging along the way!)
posted by Pat
Mike Resnick: Stalking the Vampire (2008) ***½
After a couple of gritty, gory very hard-boiled mysteries, Stalking the Vampire was just what I needed --- a fast, funny, light-hearted romp through the classic mystery form.
Admittedly, if you loathe science fiction, you won't like this book even though it follows all the rules for a great mystery plot: it's full of vampires, zombies, trolls and ingenious electronic gadgets not yet invented. Author Resnick is a much-decorated science fiction author who only occasionally dabbles in mysteries, but he certainly knows how to spin a yarn and entertain the readers.
Manhattan private investigator John Justin Mallory is horrified to find out that Rupert, the visiting nephew of his tough-girl partner Winnifred Carruthers, is halfway to becoming an unwilling vampire. In the wild street party that is New York City on Halloween night, can John Justin and his little band of helpers (including office cat-woman Felina and would-be mystery author/dragon Scaly Jim Chandler) find Rupert in time to save him from ruin? Well, actually NO they can't, but it turns out that someone got to Rupert in time at least to prevent his transformation --- by killing him first (hmmm -- is it still murder if the person you kill is already the next-best thing to undead?). One way or the other, John Justin owes it to Winnifred to track down the guilty party...
posted by Pat
Hal McDonald: The Anatomists (2008) ****
The Anatomists is an entertaining historical mystery set in London in the 1820s: lots of appropriately creepy atmospheric details, but also good believable characters and an engaging storyline.
Edward Montague and Jean-Claude Legrand are medical students who are doing what all medical students of the time are forced to do --- paying a "resurrectionist" (aka grave-robber) to dig up a fresh body for them to use in their anatomy studies. Things begin to get complicated, though, when the body provided, which cemetery records indicate is a young woman who died of natural causes, turns out to be a man who has obviously been murdered. Who is he, who killed him and how did his body end up in the wrong grave? Edward and Jean-Claude can't resist putting their diagnostic skills to work in search of the answer...
posted by Pat
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