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L. J. Roberts (Oakland, CA, USA)
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The Long Way Home (Chief Inspector Gamache)
The Long Way Home (Chief Inspector Gamache)
by Louise Penny
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book that is more than mystery. It is a journey that keeps drawing us down the road., 26 Aug. 2014
First Sentence: As Clara Morrow approached, she wondered if he'd repeat the same small gesture he'd done every morning.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has retired and moved, with his wife Reine-Marie, to the village of Three Pines. There he is seeking peace and recovery from recent events. However, he can't ignore the plea from one of his neighbors and friends. Clara and her husband Peter decided to separate for one year. That year has now passed, but Peter has neither returned nor contacted Clara. The search for Peter sends Gamache, his former second-in-command, Jean-Guy, and other residents, to Montreal and into isolated regions of Quebec.

From the very first, we are as intrigued by the actions of one of the characters as are other characters in the story. We, too, want an explanation. At the same time, we are brought into the beauty and seeming tranquility of the Village of Three Pines..."The village had the rhythm, the cadence, of a piece of music. Perhaps that's what Henri heard. The music of Three Pines. It was like a hum, a hymn, a comforting ritual."

The reader learns of the characters through their personalities, rather than their backstories. It is particularly clear how close are Gamache and Reine-Marie, and how solid is their marriage.

One of the many wonderful things about Penny's writing is that she makes you stop and think, even when it's a simple phrase easily passed over; "Surprised by joy." There are so many small truths in Penny's writing; lines and passages that make you stop, think and read again and again. They don't interrupt the flow of the story, but enhance it and cause one to savour it. Yet only Penny could so effectively use a German Shepherd as a vehicle to convey loss and healing. She puts emotions into words. And then, she throw you a plot twist.

Penny's descriptions are so evocative, one can not only envision the scene, place or object, but you yearn to physically be there. She takes you places you've never been and of which you've never heard. This is a story that makes you want to travel; to see and experience places for yourself. But, at the very least, you find yourself running to the internet.

The characters are wonderful. They are people you want to know; what to have as friends and neighbors. You find yourself both wanting to know these people and, in some cases, wanting to be them. The dialogue is so well done, with an easy, natural flow and, occasionally, delightful humour.

Ms. Penny is an intelligent author who includes poetry, literature, art, mythology and psychology into the story, yet she doesn't, in any way, write above her readers or seek to demean them.

To say "The Long Way Home" is an excellent book is almost an understatement. The book certainly has all the elements of a mystery are there, including a plot which is unusual in its structure, but it is also so much more than that that. It is a journey that keeps drawing us down the road.

If you've not read any of the books in this series, please do start at the beginning with "Still Life." It is hard for me to restrain myself when talking about the quality of Ms. Penny's writing. She is an author whose work will stand the test of time.

THE LONG WAY HOME (Trad Mys-Armand Gamache-Canada-Contemp) - Ex
Penny, Louise - 10th in series
Minotaur Books, 2014


The Reckoning (John Madden Mystery Book 4)
The Reckoning (John Madden Mystery Book 4)
Price: £7.19

5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful mystery with such a good plot, 14 Aug. 2014
First Sentence: As he was fitting a new fly to his hook, Oswald Gibson looked up and saw two figures on the ridge above, both of them carrying what looked like fishing gear over their shoulders, long, cylindrical cases of the kind that you could fit two sections of a rod in.

A bank manager is shot execution-style while fishing. A family doctor is murdered in the same with the same gun. DI Billy Styles, former protégé of his now-retired boss John Madden, receives a letter from the second victim in the name of Madden, is mentioned. After a third man is killed, the pieces begin to fall into place and they realize they must find the killer before more are murdered.

It’s great to have an opening that hooks you into the story from the very beginning. The descriptions provide a lovely, pastoral sense of place and then…you’re quickly turning to the next page.
The author presents a very good segue justifying bringing the now-retired John Madden into an active police investigation. Madden is a protagonist who is angst-free, and happily married to his physician-wife, Helen.

It’s nice to have a group of policeman who respect one another and work well together. Yes, there’s the antagonistic senior officer, but that’s to be expected. What is also nice, particularly considering the time period, is to introduce D.C. Lilly Poole; a smart, capable, female officer actively involved in the investigation. Although there are a lot of characters in the story, each is very distinct and memorable; each plays a significant role. The author has a good voice, with natural dialogue and occasional wry humor.

“The Reckoning” is a wonderful mystery with such a good plot. The author takes us down several trails, all of which add to the suspense and an excellent climax. Originally, I believe this series was intended to be a trilogy. This book had just enough of an open end to make us hope for a fifth book...in another five years.

THE RECKONING (Pol Proc-John Madden-England-1947/Contemp) – VG+
Airth, Rennie – 4th in series
Viking, 2014


Golden Mile to Murder (A Chief Inspector Woodend Mystery)
Golden Mile to Murder (A Chief Inspector Woodend Mystery)
Price: £3.85

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, well-plotted mystery, 14 Aug. 2014
First Sentence: Behind them shone the bright lights of Blackpool, ahead of them lay the darkness of the Irish Sea.

DCI Charlie Woodend is out of Scotland Yard and banished by his new boss, SD Ainsworth to Blackpool—without his right arm, Bob Rutter, to investigate the murder of a Blackpool policeman. There, he is assigned DS Monika Paniatowski, who has issues of her own, not the least of which is being the first female sergeant in Blackpool. They are also up against a squad determined to prevent Woodend from finding out too much.

The book opens with a classic scene of a young couple at the beach, but the scene has a very non-classic ending. At the end of the first chapter, there’s no question that you’ll go on to read the rest.

Spencer provides wonderful descriptions of Woodend’s return to the town in which he grew up and that feeling of both familiarity and foreignness one can have…”So perhaps you never really could go back, he thought—because back wasn’t there any longer.”

The best description of Woodend is given by an officer who’d worked with him previously…”You don’t really know the meaning of the term “bloody-minded” until you’ve worked the Cloggin’-it Charlie. He’s stubborn, unreasonable, relentless, and possibly the best policeman it’s ever been my privilege to work with.” He is also a fan of Dickens, hard, but fair and, it turns out, a very good team leader and boss to the young, female, D.S. Monika’s background is very much incorporated into the story. Spencer’s representation of a woman who has experienced that which Monika has done, is painfully accurate.

Spencer’s descriptions can be delightful, particularly that of Woodend’s landlady…”She was a real dragon, Woodend thought admiringly. If Saint George had had to face a creature like Mrs. Bowyer in this quest to free the maiden, he would have abandoned the girl to her fate and gone off in search of the nearest pub.” He also provide an excellent sense of time by including references to books, television shows—Bonanza--and movies—The Guns of Navarone—of the time.

“The Golden Mile to Murder” is an excellent mystery that is so well plotted. Not only did I not identify the killer, but the epilogue provides a wonderful “WOW” moment.

THE GOLDEN MILE TO MURDER (Pol Proc-DCI Charlie Woodend-Blackpool, England-1960s/Contemp) - Ex
Sally Spencer (aka Alan Rustage) – 5th in series
Severn House, 2001


Dark Winter
Dark Winter
by David Mark
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.48

5.0 out of 5 stars Such a good book with an fascinating protagonist., 12 July 2014
This review is from: Dark Winter (Paperback)
First Sentence: The old man looks up, and for a moment it feels as though he is staring through the wrong end of a telescope.

An old man is telling a journalist the story of how he survived the sinking of a trawler thirty years ago. They take a break and he disappears only to be found dead later in a lifeboat off the coast of Finland. Det. Sgt. McAvoy is sitting at an outdoor café with his son when they hear panicked screaming from the church across the way. As he arrives, he barely being struck by a blade carried by a man all in black. What he does find is a young woman, hacked to death.

It’s always a bit sad to be introduced to a character one likes only to have him be the first victim. We then segue to our protagonist is peacefully sitting in the town square only to have total chaos.

McAvoy is an interesting character whose personality belies his physical appearance. He has a past with the force, resulting in some bitterness. He’s a wonderfully complex character. He’s a cop who really cares about his job… “…And he knows that the reason he has to catch the right man…It’s because somebody has to give a damn about the rules. Idealistic? Perhaps; but it makes him an interesting character.

Mark provides some wonderfully evocative descriptions which provide a strong sense of place. “There are still proud homeowners here and there. Amid the black teeth and rotted gums of the burned-out and vandalized houses stands the occasional white-painted molar.”

The story had an excellent plot. As the pieces started fitting together, the pace increased and uncovering the villain and the motive keep the pace moving forward at a fast pace, but not without some introspection.

“The Dark Water” is a very credible debut book and a character interesting enough to what to know more.

THE DARK WINTER (Pol Proc-Det. Sgt. Aector McAvoy-Hull, England-Contemp) – VG+
Mark, David – 1st in series
A Plume Book, 2012


Any Other Name (Walt Longmire Mysteries)
Any Other Name (Walt Longmire Mysteries)
by Craig Johnson
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent! Johnson both entertains and educates. Not a single wrong step to be found., 12 July 2014
First Sentence: Joseph Conrad said that if you wanted to know the age of the earth, look upon the sea in a storm; if you want to know the age of the Powder River country just be on the wrong side of a coal train.

Sheriff Walt Longmire is about to be a grandfather—very soon. He has promised his daughter, Cady, that he will be in Philadelphia for the baby’s birth. His old friend and former boss, Lucian Connally, asks him for a favor of going with him to an adjacent county and visit a woman whose daughter is missing. One missing woman leads to secrets, corruption and possible death.

Johnson is the epitome of a story teller. You are not a viewer; you are a participant. How does he do it? He starts by hooking you into the story from the very beginning by his strong voice and the ability to create a very visual sense of place. He makes you feel and see what he describes. His inclusion of spiritualism adds to the sense of place, the strength of the character and the story.

Part of that voice is his humor. It’s not situational, but dry and natural. His dialogue is among the best being written. Most of it is his characters. Walt is such an engaging character. He is truly the “long arm of the law” and well-liked by his colleagues. But he’s not infallible nor is he superman. The supporting characters of Henry Standing Bear and Undersheriff Vic Moretti, Lucian and Dog are significant to the story. Best of all, even the secondary characters are well developed. None of Johnson’s characters are flat or stereotypes. They all have a part to play in the effectiveness of the story. Even the weather becomes a character within the story.

“Any Other Name” is an excellent book. It’s filled with tension and breath-catching suspense, but the pacing is perfect with enough pauses in the action for balance. Johnson is an author who both entertains you and educates you. There’s not a single wrong step to be found.

ANY OTHER NAME (Pol Proc-Sheriff Walt Longmire-Wyoming, Contemp) - Ex
Johnson, Craig – 10th in series
Viking, 2014


The Baklava Club (Yashim the Ottoman Detective)
The Baklava Club (Yashim the Ottoman Detective)
by Jason Goodwin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Humor, suspense, interesting characters and wonderful descriptions, 12 July 2014
First Sentence: The man lives, or the man dies.

A group of young Italians, spending much of their time with Yashim’s friend Ambassador Palewski, are part of the revolutionaries striving for the reform and unification of Italy. At the moment, they are exiled in Istanbul with instructions to kill a Polish Prince. The assignation becomes kidnapping and the wounding of Palweski, causing him to become involved.

The book has an excellent opening with wonderful descriptions…”the sea is smooth like watered silk beneath a crescent moon, the ship’s wake fanning out like a tear.” At the same time, we are left with a sense of dread. However, it is the descriptions of food and dishes prepared by Yashim that are particularly wonderful. One hopes a cookbook might be in the author’s future.

The two principal characters, Yashim, a eunuch in the service of the valide—queen mother of the ruling sultan--and his friend Palewski, the Polish Ambassador without a country or embassy, are wonderful contrasts to one another, yet we feel their friendship. Natasha is one of the most complex characters. We get to know her through the story, as does Yashim. The other characters are much less developed.

Goodwin writes wonderful dialogue. When viewing Palewski’s library, a priest comments, “It’s not a collection you have, Palewski. It’s a disease.” At the same time, having a dictionary handy is useful…”I palliate the torment, Palewski, by a strict diet of incunabula…”

One thing that does help is to have a good overview of the history of this period. An Advanced Reader’s Copy unfortunately does not include any “Author’s Notes” which may be in the final publication. One is, instead, thankful for the internet. Without it, the motives can be a bit difficult to grasp. Credit where due, however, is that Goodwin does do a decent job of providing the information within the text.

“The Baklava Club” has humor, suspense, interesting characters and wonderful descriptions. It’s not, perhaps, the best of the series, but it’s still worth taking the time to read.

THE BAKLAVA CLUB (Hist Mys-Insp. Yashim-Istanbul-1842) – G+
Goodwin, Jason – 5th in series
Sarah Crichton Books/Macmillan, 2014


Fatal Harbor: A Lewis Cole Mystery
Fatal Harbor: A Lewis Cole Mystery
by Brendan Dubois
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Suspenseful and exciting but a bit too over the top., 12 July 2014
First Sentence: In my home state of New Hampshire, death certificates are a formal-looking document, with a light watermark in the center outlining the shape of our fair state.

Lewis Cole’s best friend, Police Detective Diane Woods, was on duty at an anti-nuclear demonstration that turned violent. Diane was singled out by a man who beat her so severely; she now lies in a coma. Cole, formerly an analyst with the Department of Defense, with the help of his friend, security consultant Felix Tinios, is determined to find the man and mete out his own form of justice. However, men who are willing to kill are doing their best to stop Cole.

The first chapter starts by tugging at your heart, ends with a bang. From there, the story rarely lets up. Dubois definitely knows how to write action.

Dubois does create a strong sense of place. It’s clear he knows Boston well. If the reader does, they will smile at his reference to “the People’s Republic of Cambridge.” West Coasters; think Berkeley. He does make an interesting, and sobering, point about how fragile is our power grid and the potential impact should it fail.

The protagonist, Louis Cole, is an interesting one. Yet if one hasn’t read previous books in the series, it’s difficult to see how he went from being a DoD analyst and magazine writer to the character he is here. It’s nice to think a friend would do anything for you, but this is a bit extreme. Yet without his actions, we have no story.

Granted, I am reviewing from an Advanced Readers’ copy, but I found there to be a considerable amount of repetitive information. I shall hope further editing prior to the final publishing will have corrected.

“Fatal Harbor” is suspenseful, exciting, and filled with very effective plot twists. However, it also seemed a bit over the top. Still, it was a non-stop and great as an airplane or Sunday afternoon read.

FATAL HARBOR (Non-licen. Invest-Lewis Cole-East Coast-Contemp) - Good
Dubois, Brendan – 8th in series
Pegasus, 2014


Silent Voices (Vera Stanhope 4)
Silent Voices (Vera Stanhope 4)
by Ann Cleeves
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars A thoroughly engrossing read., 12 July 2014
First Sentence: Vera swam slowly.

It’s not every day a police inspector finds a dead body sharing a sauna with her in a hotel health club, especially when that body is of a murder victim. Vera and her team work to find a killer in a village filled with people, and their secrets.

From the very first paragraph, one is caught up in the author’s voice; her dry humor and the character. By the end of the first chapter, on is also caught up in the story.

There is so much one could say about the characters, particularly Vera. How nice it is to have a female protagonist such as Vera. She’s a mature woman, overweight and unconcerned about her appearance—except, not totally unconcerned. She does care about being fair to her team, knows what motivates each of them, and is a very good leader; even though she drives them hard. She’s respected by her colleagues, even when they frustrate her. The relationship she has with Joe, her sergeant, is an interesting one…”Sometimes Vera though he represented her feminine side. He had the empathy, she had the muscle. Well, the bulk.” Even with the suspects, she doesn’t just investigate clues, but motivations; what makes people do what they do, what drives them.

Cleeves has a very interesting style. Although the story is told in 3rd person, when she focuses on Vera, it switches somewhat to first person as we gain insight on her life and character through an internal monologue and her observations…”These days, people expected senior female officers to walk straight out of “Prime Suspect.”

There is a very strong sense of place and wonderful descriptions. Particularly appealing is the contrast between the town and the desolation of Vera’s home. It’s very much part of her character.

Although the story is character driven, it certainly doesn’t lack for plot or suspense. We’re given plenty of characters with motives, nice red herrings and plot twists. “Vera” is currently a television series done by British ITV, and very well done it is. The only way I knew the villain in the book was having seen the episode. Otherwise, it really wasn’t obvious.

“Silent Voices” is a thoroughly engrossing read. It’s not a book you’ll put down and come back to later. Cleeves is a wonderful author who should be much better known to American readers.

SILENT VOICES (Pol. Proc-Det. Insp. Vera Stanhope-England-Contemp) – VG+
Cleeves, Ann – 1st in series
A Thomas Dunne Book for Minotaur Books, 2011


Slash and Burn: A Dr Siri Murder Mystery (Dr Siri Paiboun Mystery 8)
Slash and Burn: A Dr Siri Murder Mystery (Dr Siri Paiboun Mystery 8)
by Colin Cotterill
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A really good read with a surprising twist and motive., 5 Jun. 2014
First Sentence: You know?

Dr. Siri, the nearly 80 year old corner of Laos, wants to retire and spend some time with his wife before he dies; a death predicted by the local transvestite fortuneteller. Yet it agrees to one last job. Ten years earlier, during the Vietnam War, a US fighter pilot went down in the jungle. A search party of Americans and Laotian scientists and high-level politicians set out to find the pilots remains. They don’t expect to be trapped in a remote cabin due to smoke. Even less, do they expect one of their party to die.

From the very beginning, it’s clear that this isn’t your usual mystery, unless you read a lot of books where the protagonist embodies a centuries-old shaman and a transvestite fortune teller are among the charters. But the wonderfully quirky cast of characters is only one thing that makes this book a delight to read. However, one thing devotedly to be wished, would be a cast of characters at the beginning of the book, as it did become confusing at times.

Excellent descriptions; “But the setting was idyllic. It wasn’t yet 10:00 A.M. and not all the mist had burned away from the surrounding mountains. The sun was still a fuzzy egg yolk behind a lace curtain. The air was fresh and tingled the back of Siri’s throat. The sound of running stream water provided the soundtrack. The second hands on the watches on the wrists of the Americans began to crawl more slowly around the faces. Time had altered.”

The book is filled with humor, but there’s pathos as well. We’re presented with a country subjected to war, and a description of a village which has lost an “entire generation of able-bodied young men.” Tucked into this story is the remarkable story of what happened to the people of this area. The title is explained by a tradition of the farming people in this area. However, one also learns about the various ways in which marijuana can be used.

Some may describe this series as being light and, granted, there is a lot of humor both in the characters and the events. However, there is a deeper layer that, when looked for, provides a real grounding to the story.

“Slash and Burn” is not my favorite of the series, but it’s still a really good read. There is a surprising twist and motive, but one that makes perfect sense in the end. Be assured, however, that Dr. Siri and his crew remain firmly on my “must read” list.

SLASH AND BURN (Lic Invest-Dr. Siri Paiboun-Laos-Contemp) – G+
Cotterill, Colin – 8th in series
Soho Crime, 2011


The Vault (Peter Diamond Mystery)
The Vault (Peter Diamond Mystery)
by Peter Lovesey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars a very clever mystery; well written and enjoyable., 5 Jun. 2014
First Sentence: Some weird objects are handed in at Bath Police Stations.

Bones—contemporary bones, not Roman bones--are discovered in a vault below the house in which Mary Shelly wrote most of her book “Frankenstein.” An American academic and Shelly fan, reports that his wife has gone missing at the time he was in an antique shop trying to buy a letterbox said to have belonged to the author. When the owner turns up dead, D.S. Diamond has to question whether the man is guilty of one murder, two…or none.

The book begins with an excellent hook. There’s no question of putting the book down, once one starts it.

It’s hard not to love the characters, particularly with Lovesey’s humor, bad puns…”The bony hand, resting on its pizza box, was deposited on Detective Superintendent Peter diamond’s desk. “What’s this—a finger buffet?”…”…When’s medieval?” “Later than Roman,”… The dialogue, in general, is wonderful… “Where did you find it.?" "At Hay-on-Wye." This was cause for a smile. "Sooner or later everything of no special distinction seems to end up there.” It’s wonderful to have dialogue that is clever and witty enough to make one laugh.

Diamond is a great character and a bit of a contrast. Although he always describes himself as believing other see him as annoying and a curmudgeon, there’s little actual evidence of that from his actions. He helps a young reporter who wants to join the police. He has a wonderful conversation with a 6-year-old girl. He has a good relationship with his wife. And he sings songs by Queen—how can one not like a character that single Queen? As an investigator, he uses logic and questioning, rather than makes assumptions.

The plot is interesting and contains information on some rather obscure history of Bath, Mary Shelly, and art—including a reference to David Hockney. One intriguing comment was that in all his years as a murder man, the board of crime scene photos had never been of an practical help. There are a couple threads to the plot, as well as some clever twists, and everything is brought together really well at the end.

“The Vault,” although perhaps not my favorite of the series, is a very clever mystery; well written and enjoyable. Lovesey’s Peter Diamond series has become a definite favorite of mine.

THE VAULT (Pol Proc-DS Peter Diamond-Bath, England-Contemp) - VG
Lovesey, Peter – 5th in series
Soho, 1999


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