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L. J. Roberts (Oakland, CA, USA)
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   

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Death Comes to the Ballets Russes (Lord Francis Powerscourt)
Death Comes to the Ballets Russes (Lord Francis Powerscourt)
by David Dickinson
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Contains some very effective drama, broken by subtle humor, but the narrative resolution is a bit of an anticlimax., 4 Mar. 2015
except the murder scene of the lead’s understudy, in one of the ballets, to have been real. Which man was the intended victim? Lord Powerscourt is called in to find out. But members of the ballet are not the only Russians in London. Two you men from very wealthy Russian families stole their mother’s valuable jewels in a fit of pique. They sent them to London with a member of the ballet company to be sold. Also, followers of the revolutionist Lenin are there to change millions of rubles, stolen from a bank in Russia, into pounds. Can Powerscourt, with the help of his wife Lucy and friend Johnny Fitzgerald, put all the pieces together?

There is much to like in this book, starting with the very chapter headings. Good chapter headings are always a treat, and Dickinson wisely chose to use ballet terms and their definitions for this book. What he also does is demonstrate the world of wealth, connections and protocol Lord Powerscourt inhabits, and the hierarchy of investigating the dead: if one was English, they rate an inspector; if European, a sergeant; Africans only rate a detective constable.

Dickinson smoothly integrates real historical figures with fictional characters, as well as incorporating historical information into the plot. One often hears about the Bolsheviks, and their involvement with Lenin and Stalin, but it is nice to learn about them, in a simplified context, and for what they stood. The story also really makes clear the animosity and distrust between nations.

All of the characters, are fully-dimensional, particularly Powerscourt. We know not only about the investigation, but his family life and how that plays into the investigation through the connections both he and his wife have. At the same time, it is pleasant that he is not a snob, yet quite egalitarian in this treatment of the young sergeant and others of a lower social class. What is also delightful is the elements of observation and humor…”The answer came in a whisper. Powerscourt had often remarked how people thought they could minimize the effect of some terrible news by announcing it in the lowest of voices.”

For all the good, however, this is not the best book in the series. Dickinson is very good at taking a seemingly small stream and adding tributaries until it becomes a wild, rushing, tumbling river, finally opening it up into a wide, flat body of water. In this case, there were are few too many tributaries and it became a difficult river to navigate.

“Death Comes to the Ballets Russes” contains some very effective drama, broken by subtle humor, but the narrative resolution is a bit of an anticlimax. Still, it is a respectable addition to the series.

DEATH COMES TO THE BALLETS RUSSES (Hist Mys-Lord Francis Powerscourt – England – 1912) – Good
Dickinson, David
Constable – January 2015


Winter Siege
Winter Siege
by Ariana Franklin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Were it possible to rate a book 10 out of 5 stars, this would be it. I loved every page; every word., 4 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Winter Siege (Paperback)
First Sentence: It is a wood-paneled room of sumptuous size—the abbots of Perton have always done themselves well.

In 1141, England was engulfed in civil war between King Stephen and his cousin, the Empress Matilda over who would wear the crown. It is 1180 and a dying abbot has one last important task to accomplish. He summons a young scribe in order to document a much more personal story set during that backdrop and occurring during a long, brutal siege winter.

While readers were heartbroken by the death of Ariana Franklin and the incredible cliffhanger left in her last book in the “Mistress of the Art of Death” series, this does not resolve that series. However, for both prior and new readers, you are in for such a treat. This book was begun by Ms. Franklin (aka Diana Norman) prior to her death, and has been completed by her daughter, Samantha Norman. While that is wonderful in itself, what is truly remarkable is that the fusion is absolutely seamless.

There is no awkward transition between the two authors; it is all one voice. No, the language is not of the period. To that, there was the explanation given by Ms. Franklin at the end of “Grave Goods,” …”…in twelfth-century England the common people spoke a form of English even less comprehensive than Chaucer’s. In the fourteenth; the nobility spoke Normal French, and the clergy spoke Latin. Since people then sounded contemporary to one another, and since I hate the use of what I call “gadzooks” in historical novels to denote a past age, I insist on making those people sound modern to the reader.” One can’t argue with that.

For us readers, the story begins with the history given, the stage set, the players assembled and the curtain drawn on what, from the very start, we know will be a wonderful tale. The narrative is fascinating and, periodically through the story, moves the tale forward while providing historical context. The story provides wonderful details of castle life, and what it takes to run and defend a castle during this period.

What a wonderful assembly of characters. Each leaps off the page into full life and touches our emotions. Gwilherm de Vannes, a mercenary soldier, and his conversations with God are a true delight…”And what now, Lord? Eh? How can I protect her from herself?” “That’s a tricky one, Gwil. That’s the question. Even I can’t help you there I’m afraid.” Young Pen, whom he rescues, is a survivor who learns to cope with events in her own way. Maud, forced into marriage and now finds herself having to defend her castle with the help of Sir Rollo, commander of her troops and protect her son, William. There is a mystery to the story, and a villain which is as evil as a villain can be. This is the time of the Plantagenets, and the history is important, but the story is very much a human story.

However, considering One really doesn’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling what is an absolutely wonderful read. It is a story one would love to see brought to the screen, but only if it included every single page filmed exactly as it is on the page.

“The Siege Winter” is exciting, stirring, filled of tension and can bring one to tears but has a conclusion which makes one smile and touches the heart. Do you know how hard it is to write review notes when one is crying? It is a story which stays with you long after the last page. At the bottom of my review notes, I wrote Ex+++++++. Were it possible to rate a book 10 out of 5 stars, this would be it. I loved every page; every word. It doesn’t get better than that. However, the best news is that this may only be the first in a series.

THE SIEGE WINTER (Hist Novel – Gwil / Pendra – England – 1100s) – EX
Franklin, Ariana and Samantha Norman – 1st book
Harper Collins – February 2015


The Siege Winter
The Siege Winter
by Ariana Franklin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.41

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Were it possible to rate a book 10 out of 5 stars, this would be it. I loved every page; every word., 4 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Siege Winter (Hardcover)
First Sentence: It is a wood-paneled room of sumptuous size—the abbots of Perton have always done themselves well.

In 1141, England was engulfed in civil war between King Stephen and his cousin, the Empress Matilda over who would wear the crown. It is 1180 and a dying abbot has one last important task to accomplish. He summons a young scribe in order to document a much more personal story set during that backdrop and occurring during a long, brutal siege winter.

While readers were heartbroken by the death of Ariana Franklin and the incredible cliffhanger left in her last book in the “Mistress of the Art of Death” series, this does not resolve that series. However, for both prior and new readers, you are in for such a treat. This book was begun by Ms. Franklin (aka Diana Norman) prior to her death, and has been completed by her daughter, Samantha Norman. While that is wonderful in itself, what is truly remarkable is that the fusion is absolutely seamless.

There is no awkward transition between the two authors; it is all one voice. No, the language is not of the period. To that, there was the explanation given by Ms. Franklin at the end of “Grave Goods,” …”…in twelfth-century England the common people spoke a form of English even less comprehensive than Chaucer’s. In the fourteenth; the nobility spoke Normal French, and the clergy spoke Latin. Since people then sounded contemporary to one another, and since I hate the use of what I call “gadzooks” in historical novels to denote a past age, I insist on making those people sound modern to the reader.” One can’t argue with that.

For us readers, the story begins with the history given, the stage set, the players assembled and the curtain drawn on what, from the very start, we know will be a wonderful tale. The narrative is fascinating and, periodically through the story, moves the tale forward while providing historical context. The story provides wonderful details of castle life, and what it takes to run and defend a castle during this period.

What a wonderful assembly of characters. Each leaps off the page into full life and touches our emotions. Gwilherm de Vannes, a mercenary soldier, and his conversations with God are a true delight…”And what now, Lord? Eh? How can I protect her from herself?” “That’s a tricky one, Gwil. That’s the question. Even I can’t help you there I’m afraid.” Young Pen, whom he rescues, is a survivor who learns to cope with events in her own way. Maud, forced into marriage and now finds herself having to defend her castle with the help of Sir Rollo, commander of her troops and protect her son, William. There is a mystery to the story, and a villain which is as evil as a villain can be. This is the time of the Plantagenets, and the history is important, but the story is very much a human story.

However, considering One really doesn’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling what is an absolutely wonderful read. It is a story one would love to see brought to the screen, but only if it included every single page filmed exactly as it is on the page.

“The Siege Winter” is exciting, stirring, filled of tension and can bring one to tears but has a conclusion which makes one smile and touches the heart. Do you know how hard it is to write review notes when one is crying? It is a story which stays with you long after the last page. At the bottom of my review notes, I wrote Ex+++++++. Were it possible to rate a book 10 out of 5 stars, this would be it. I loved every page; every word. It doesn’t get better than that. However, the best news is that this may only be the first in a series.

THE SIEGE WINTER (Hist Novel – Gwil / Pendra – England – 1100s) – EX
Franklin, Ariana and Samantha Norman – 1st book
Harper Collins – February 2015


Everyone in Their Place
Everyone in Their Place
by Maurizio de Giovanni
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.68

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story of passion and human weaknesses. This is a book and series I highly recommend, 4 Feb. 2015
First Sentence: The angel of death made its way through the festa, and nobody noticed.

The beautiful Duchess of Camparino has been found dead of a gunshot wound…or was she smothered? It is up to the solitary Commissario Riccardi and his partner, Brigadier Maione, to solve the crime while dealing with their own personal issues.

There is nothing better than an opening which is both compelling and done with very evocative descriptions. What is particularly clever is that throughout the story, we have the diary entries of a nameless character. Just when we think we’ve identified the writer, another hint is dropped and we are sent off in a different direction.

The cast of characters is extensive, yet each character is distinct. The most intriguing is Riccardi, who has the gift, or curse, of “the Deed”; the ability to see those who have died by violence—accidents, murder, or suicide—in the last few second of the life and to hear their final words or thoughts. This ability isolates him from all but a few people. At his side, and ever loyal, is Maione who is married with 5 children, Doctor Modo the medical examiner, and Rosa Riccardi’s childhood nanny who still looks after him.

While the story is a police procedural, it is so much more than that. It is a character-driven novel which is very much about relationships; love, insecurities, passions, and the acts to which one can be driven by love. The author meshes the characters with the story so skillfully; we feel part of the community. Each character is fully-developed and we have no desire to by-pass any of them.

Yes, the translation can feel awkward at times, particularly the dialogue, but that is easily forgiven. The quality and complexity of the story overcome any other shortcomings.

“Everyone In Their Place” is a story of passion and human weaknesses. There are no perfect characters; but each one is perfectly conveyed. This is a series I highly recommend.

EVERYONE IN THEIR PLACE (Pol Proc-Comm Riccardi/Brig. Maione-Naples, Itlay-1931) -
de Giovanni, Maurizio – 3rd in series
Europa Editions – Nov. 2013


Hell to Pay
Hell to Pay
by Garry Disher
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.09

5.0 out of 5 stars An extremely well-written book dealing with very timely issues., 4 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Hell to Pay (Hardcover)
First Sentence: On a Monday morning in September, three weeks into the job, the Tiverton policeman took a call from his sergeant: shots fired on Bitter Wash Road.

Paul Hirschhausen ("Hirsch") has been demoted to Constable, and sent to back-of-beyond Australia where he's mistrusted and berated by his "fellow" officers. Internal Investigations in Adelaide is still after him, trying to convict him of something and willing to plant evidence to do it. In the meantime, even in his remote locate, there are crimes to be solved, including the body of a 16-year-old girl found by the side of the road.

If one ever read Rhys Bowen's "Hamish Macbeth" series, Hirsch's posting will remind one of that. However, that is the only similarity. Disher takes us about as far as possible from Hamish's Scotland, down to Southern Australia, but acquaints us with the area with wonderfully visual descriptions..."October gathered its skirts and raced past."

Disher provides very good backstory on Hirsch. The inclusion of his inquest was both interesting, but allows for his speculation as to why some cops go bad. We also see the frustration of a god cop working for, and with, bad cops; the blindness of "the thin blue line, and how corrupting that can be. On the other hand, it is interesting to see the diversity of calls to which a rural cop must respond and the relationship he must maintain with the community.

Disher does a wonderful job building up the suspense and tension. One can't help but appreciate the source from which Hirsch's rescue comes.

"Hell to Pay" is an excellent read; an extremely well-written book dealing with very timely issues.

HELL TO PAY (Pol Proc - Const. Paul Hirschhausen-Adelaide, Australia-Contemp) - Ex
Disher, Garry - Standalone
Soho Crime - June, 2014


Silence the Dead: Suspense in smalltown Illinois
Silence the Dead: Suspense in smalltown Illinois
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars THIS is the book for which I've been waiting from Fredrickson. Loved it!!!, 4 Feb. 2015
First Sentence: Betty Jo Dean lay as she had for over thirty years, shrouded in black vinyl, forever seventeen.

In 1982, Jonah Ridy, a reporter for the Chicago Sun Times, is given the chance to restore his reputation as an investigative journalist by travelling to a small town for a follow-up piece about a man who has been shot and whose girlfriend is missing. In spite of his very cold reception, he perseveres, even though people around him start dying. One death finally causes him to walk away. Thirty-years later, the town has a new mayor, an outsider. The more he learns about the town’s secrets, the more determined he is to find the answers—no matter the cost.

This is a story of three parts, each completely engrossing. In the first part, we meet Betty Jo Dean. Fredrickson makes us feel her fear and desperation. No mater her background, we empathize with her. In the second part, we come to know Jonah Ridy. We want him to be redeemed and to solve the mystery, but we greatly fear for him. In the third, and major section of the story, we have Mayor Mac Bassett who, with the support of his ex-wife, waitress and others, is determined to find the answers. Fredrickson does a masterful job of introducing us to Mac and establishing his personality, thereby explaining his actions.

The sign of a really good story is when you become so involved and invested in one time period; you are started when there is a shift. You have to trust that the author will bring the parts together so that it all makes sense. Frederickson definitely achieved that.

The only very, very slight flaw to the book was having a prologue. Rather than having that section at the beginning, it would have been better to leave it only within the relevant section of the story. Having the prologue wasn’t really necessary and diminished the impact of the information when it did appear later. The second, itty-bitty criticism is that the final status of the main characters was a bit twee, but perhaps that’s more a reaction of jealousy.

There are some authors one discovers, and enjoys, but feels their writing could be so much “more.” This book is definitely the “more” for which one has been waiting. This book is the one from Fredrickson for which I’ve been waiting.

“Silence the Dead” is very well plotted, without any reliance on coincidences. Everything is rationally, logically, or emotionally based and appropriate. The forensic information is critical, well-explained, and fascinating. The level of suspense is ratcheted up at a steady pace with excellent twists right up to the very end. Highly Recommended.

SILENCE THE DEAD (Trad Myst – Jonah Ridl/Mac Basset – Illinois – 1982/Contemp) – VG+
Fredrickson, Jack –Standalone
Severn House, January 2015


The Necklace Affair (Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries)
The Necklace Affair (Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries)
Price: £0.99

5.0 out of 5 stars So well done with a very good plot twist and justice being served in a most satisfactory manner., 4 Feb. 2015
First Sentence: On an evening in late March 1917, I climbed to the third floor of Lucius Grenville’s Grosvenor Street house in search of peace, and found a lady weeping instead.

A society matron implores Captain Lacey to locate her missing necklace in order to provide the innocence of her maid. With the help of his friends, Lady Breckenridge, Lucius Grenville and two of his staff, the path leads them to scandals and secrets from the past, as well as in competition with the dangerous criminal, James Denis.

Followers of this wonderful series will appreciate this ten-chapter novella, set between “The Sudbury School Murders” and “A Body in Berkeley Square. However, this story is also an excellent introduction for new readers.

Gardner absolutely knows how to capture the reader’s attention from the very beginning. She does an excellent job of capturing the flavor of speech from the period, without it being overdone, and the wry humor is delightful. The descriptions of meals are nearly painful to read due to their lusciousness and ability to leave one nearly desperate to partake.

Gardner is particularly adept at providing background details of each character, almost without seeming to. We even learn the particulars of Lacey’s past injuries. The characters are fascinating, particularly with the contrast of light—Granville—and dark—Denis. One can’t help but enjoy the relationship between Lacy and Lady Breckenridge. Marianne is a treat and adds a wonderful twist to the plot

“The Necklace Affair” is so well done with a very good plot twist and justice being served in a most satisfactory manner.

THE NECKLACE AFFAIR (Hist Myst – Captain Lacey – London - 1817/Regency) - Ex
Gardner, Ashley – Early in the series yet only recently published
Amazon Digital Services, Inc. – January 2014


The Circle
The Circle
by Peter Lovesey
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Very cleverly plotted with plot twists, plenty of suspects and very good red herrings, 4 Feb. 2015
This review is from: The Circle (Hardcover)
First Sentence: The night of the first murder.

At the urging of his daughter, amateur poet Bob Naylor joins a local writers circle. At the previous meeting, the group was addressed by a vanity-press publisher who’d come to critique their work; some favorably, most not. The publisher is killed in an arson fire and Maurice, the group’s leader, becomes the prime suspect. Because Bob is new and not a suspect, he is recruited to prove Maurice’s innocence, almost losing his own life in the process. Because the local police aren’t making any progress, Inspector Henrietta Mallin is sent in to solve the case.
Now here’s an opening to capture one’s attention. I definitely compels you want to read on. Lovesey writes wonderful dialogue with a very natural flow and a fine element of subtle humor…”Come and meet the chair.” “Why? Is it special?” “Chairman.” “Ah.”

The members of the writing circle are a true delight and so recognizable. One can’t help but like Bob and he holds the first portion of the story together very well. One does appreciate the cameo of Peter Diamond as a segue to introducing Insp. Mallin. That said, “Hen” Mallin is a very memorable protagonist being a cigar-smoking, no-nonsense character.

“The Circle” is an unusual police procedural, but very cleverly plotted with plot twists, plenty of suspects and very good red herrings. It’s somewhat reminiscent of “Midsomer Murders” and definitely keeps one involved right to the end.

THE CIRCLE (Pol Proc - Insp. Henrietta Mallin - Chichester, England - Contemp) - VG
Lovesey, Peter – 1st in series
Soho Crime – June 2005


Gone Girl
Gone Girl
by Gillian Flynn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Had I not downloaded the e-book, it would have been a literal wall-banger., 7 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Gone Girl (Paperback)
First Sentence: When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.

It is the fifth wedding anniversary of Nick and Amy Dunne. When Nick goes down to breakfast, he finds Amy is missing and the back door open. Did she run away? Was she taken? Or did Nick actually murder her?

It is not an auspicious beginning when one starts out intensely disliking the protagonist, followed shortly by an equal dislike for the victim. Two things are required to like a book; at least one character for whom I can feel affinity and knowing that justice is done in the end. This had neither, except for a couple supporting character and that wasn’t enough. The book quickly degraded from there.

The only redeeming quality to this book is that the disappearance was well done. Other than that, this is an unpleasant story, about unpleasant people, doing unpleasant things to one another. Only the twin sister, Go, was at all interesting.

As to the plot; about half-way through, the ending seemed predictable. Hoping my suspicions were wrong, I admit going to the end. Unfortunately, I was not wrong. The ending was not only predictable, but illogical and displayed the author’s lack of knowledge. If this book is supposed to be a look into the minds of men and women, they are people one never wants to meet, let alone know.

“Gone Girl” is a book that never should have come in the first place. Dorothy Parker said it best, “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” Had I not downloaded the e-book, it would have been a literal wall-banger.

GONE GIRL (Susp - Nick Dunne – MO - Contemp) – NR/DNF
Flynn, Gillian – 3rd book
Crown, July 2012


Bryant & May - The Bleeding Heart: (Bryant & May Book 11)
Bryant & May - The Bleeding Heart: (Bryant & May Book 11)
by Christopher Fowler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolutely delightful book., 7 Jan. 2015
First Sentence: From Raymond Land to All Staff: So, it’s a new beginning for us.

The Peculiar Crimes Unit is now under the jurisdiction of the City of London and, as usual, their new top boss would like to see an end to the group. However, two crimes are keeping them in the game. A young man appears to see a body rise from a grave and claims it spoke. Have Resurrectionists returned? But what did the young man see that resulted in his murder a few days later? Someone stole the seven ravens, symbol of the British Empire, from the Tower of London. Only Bryant could discover a link between the two crimes.

How wonderful that Fowler includes a cast of characters, in the form of a staff roster, at the beginning of his books. And, right from the start, we are treated to the wonderful voice and humor of Flower. It’s a rare treat when an internal memo can be amusing.

It’s nice to have a true ensemble cast of characters, which each playing a significant role in the story and each being fully developed. Although the primary characters are James May and Arthur Bryant—what a wonderful relationship that is--Bryant took the lead here. He seems to have mellowed bit and we learn much more about his past, which is quite lovely, but we did not lose any of that which makes him so delightful. However, all the relationships are so well drawn, the characters transform into being actual people to the reader.

Fowler’s voice, wit and dialogue are such a pleasure to read…”Why have you got a house brick in there [Longbright’s handbag]?’ “Under British law you can’t stop a suspect with a weapon but you might be allowed to hit him with something that would naturally be in your hand at the time,”…. “PC Biggs folded her arms. No honest citizen should ever do anything that makes a police officer stand back and fold her arms.” There is also a delightful scene of the pathologist being thrust into a very different role than that to which he is accustomed. Flower is very good at doing the unexpected.

There is one small criticism and that is the inclusion of portents. Portents are really, really annoying, unnecessary and, rather than create suspense, have the opposite effect. They are also somewhat insulting to the reader as it’s as though the author assumes the reader won’t continue otherwise.

“The Bleeding Heart” is very clever with wonderfully logical explanations of crimes which seemed so odd. It is an absolutely delightful book.

THE BLEEDING HEART (Pol Proc-Bryant and May-London-Contemp) – VG+
Fowler, Christopher – 11th in series
December, 2014


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