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L. J. Roberts (Oakland, CA, USA)

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Daisy in Chains
Daisy in Chains
by Sharon Bolton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Bolton’s best work, unfortunately. That would be “Little Black Lies.” Still, it’s interesting enough to read to the end, 5 Oct. 2016
This review is from: Daisy in Chains (Hardcover)
First Sentence: My love, When I think of the moments that have given me greatest pleasure: scaling an impossible rock face, watching the moon over the ocean on Christmas morning, the first time my dog saw snow – all of them pale beside the second I looked into your eyes and knew that you loved me.

Maggie Rose is a defense attorney specializing in overturning convictions and writing true-crime books. Hamish Wolfe is serving time for the deaths of three, possibly four, women. As do all prisoners, he claims he is innocent, but he, and his supporters, want Maggie to re-investigate his case, while D.S. Pete Weston, the arresting officer, strongly advises her against it. Maggie decides to take a look, but does it put her at risk?

It’s interesting that the title doesn’t mean what you’d expect, but that doesn’t mean the opening is any less dramatic.

Bolton excels at creating strong, independent and unusual protagonists. These are not perfect women, but women with baggage; their own issues from the past with which they are trying to deal. They are not characters one would want to emulate, but ones who are compelling, and about whom one wants to know more.

The information as to why women form relationships with prisoners, including those they’ve never met, is fascinating. It is clear Bolton has done extensive research for this book, including on street fighting. There is also a very interesting guide on how to disappear, just in case one ever needs it.

There are issues, however, with the structure and the plot, and this criticism comes from one who has really loved Bolton’s previous books. There was way too much reliance on epistolary information. The use of letters, manuscript drafts, etc. can be interesting. However, it can also, as it did in this case, seem as though it’s filler for not being certain how to move the plot forward. The other problem was projection. There is nothing more disappointing than figuring out the end when one is half-way through and finding out you are correct.

“Daisy in Chains” is not Bolton’s best work, unfortunately. That would be “Little Black Lies.” However, it does have an effective plot twist, and the revelation is well-done, even if one does already suspect, but the final ending has become cliché. Still, it’s interesting enough to read to the end, just to be certain.

DAISY IN CHAINS (Suspense-Maggie Rose-England-Contemp) – Okay
Bolton, Sharon - Standalone
Minotaur Books – Sept 2016

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd: A Flavia de Luce Mystery Book 8
Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd: A Flavia de Luce Mystery Book 8
by Alan Bradley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.78

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Flavia is, indeed, a unique and wonderful character. such a clever plot; with an excellent twist., 5 Oct. 2016
First Sentence: The winter rain slashes at my face like icy razor blades, but I don’t care.

Flavia returns from Canada to find her father is in the hospital unable to have visitors, and only Dogger, family employee, to greet her. To keep busy, Flavia runs an errand for the Vicar’s wife, but finds the reclusive woodcarver’s body hanging upside down on the back of his bedroom door, with only a cat to keep him company.

What an intriguing opening. Even with a sense of threat, one has to smile at the anthropomorphizing of her bicycle—“Gladys’s wheels groan horribly beneath us. The biting cold has penetrated her steel cones and seized the tendons of her brake cables.”

It’s also nice to have a brief introduction to the members of her family. Bradley conveys emotions so well; Flavia’s hopefulness, her restraint and regret, and finally, her concern and guilt. One can’t help but love Dogger as he is the one person who seems to really care for, and understand, Flavia.

Flavia makes one stop, wonder, and research—“The human brain performs more efficiently when taking in humid air than it does in hot or cold dry weather.” Hmmm. Twelve-year-old Flavia is unique. One either loves her, or is terrified and repulsed by her. Either way, she has clearly spend much of her live being bullied, and has found her own way of surviving within her family. Either way, she is a curious and unique character—“I’m sorry if I seem to digress, but that is what I was thinking at the moment. It’s the way my mind works. Things are not the same in real life as they are in, for instance, the fictional world of Sherlock Holmes.”

Bradley has such a wonderful voice and use of language—“I know that there are people who are as barmy about books as Father is about postage stamps. My sister Daffy, for instance, can prattle on about flyleaves, colophons, and first editions not only until the cows have come home, but until they have put on their nightcaps, gone to bed, switched off the lights, and begun snoring in their cowsheds.” The references to actual historical figures provide a sense of time and social strata.

Flavia is a combination of amazing self-confidence and a audacity, underpinned by her intelligence, imagination and love of learning—“The falling snow and half-light of the low-hanging, leaden sky made the street seems as if it were located in some far-off mythical underground kingdom, and I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see Dante, or even old Odysseus himself…” Yet for all her eccentricity, she understands what it is to be bullied, and “adopts” fellow outsiders.

“Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d” has an excellent twist, and such a clever plot; so much so that we only realize it as it unfolds. Flavia is, indeed, a unique and wonderful character.

THRICE THE BRINDED CAT HATH MEW’D (Trad Mys-Flava de Luce-England-1950s) – VG
Bradley, Alan – 8th in series
Delacorte Press – Sept 2016

False Positive
False Positive
by Andrew Grant
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £23.50

4.0 out of 5 stars An exciting read, full of wicked twists all the way to the end. A good airplane book., 5 Oct. 2016
This review is from: False Positive (Hardcover)
First Sentence: “I lied.”

Det. Cooper Devereaux has been called back from suspension to partner with relative newcomer Jan Loflin, investigating the disappearance of a 7-year-old boy. Did the parents murder the boy? If he was kidnapped, why have there been no ransom demands? While the case brings up events in Devereaux’s own past, Loflin seems to be investigating both the case, and her partner.

The book starts with very short chapters that jump between characters and file information on Devereaux, and include cliff-hanger chapter endings. This does improve as we get further into the story.

The characters are interesting; Devereaux who carries a lot of past around with him, Loflin whose motives are suspect. They are an interesting combination, but somewhat stereotypical. While Jan seems to be a “by-the-book” cop, Devereaux style is more “what book?”. However, Jan’s insecurity and gullibility does become a big tiresome until you understand what motivates it. Each develops and becomes both more complex, and more interesting, as they story progresses. One can appreciate who Devereaux’ PDST is woven thru the story.

Grant does have a good voice—“Devereaux had always thought of the fourth floor conference room as the place where enthusiasm went to die.” He does do a very good job of conveying the stress under which the parents of a missing child would be.

“False Positive” is an exciting read, full of wicked twists all the way to the end, although the final twist was rather predictable. Still, if you’re looking for an escapist read for a weekend, or airplane trip, here it is.

FALSE POSITIVE (Pol Proc-Det. Cooper Devereaux-Alabama-Cont) – G+
Grant, Andrew – 2nd in series
Ballantine Books – Jun 2016

An Obvious Fact (Longmire Mysteries)
An Obvious Fact (Longmire Mysteries)
by Craig Johnson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.90

4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable read; a perfect airplane book., 5 Oct. 2016
First Sentence: I tried to think how many times I’d knelled down on asphalt to read the signs, but I knew this was the first time I’d done it in Hulett.

How can one not like Walt Longmire—“I shrugged and glanced at Dog, the hundred-and-fifty pound security system. “Stay. And don’t bite anybody.”…”Is he mean?” “Absolutely.” As I said this, he reached his bucket head over the side door and licked her shoulder with his wide tongue, “Well, almost absolutely.”--Henry Standing Bear, Vic Morelli, and Craig Johnson’s crisp dialogue with wonderful wry humor. However, one does have to pay attention in order to follow who is speaking when.

The interaction between Walt and Henry regarding the danger of motorcycles—“Why do people ride these contraptions, anyway?...T.E. Lawrence died on a motorcycle. You know what I make of that?” “He should not have left Arabia?” and Henry’s quoting Walt’s copy of Sherlock Holmes—“The game is afoot.”—speaks to their friendship. The information Johnson includes on both the area and on motorcycles is quite interesting.

The plot is well done, but the book is definitely character-driven and has a lighter sense to it than previous books. One note that felt off was Henry’s reaction to the victim.

“An Obvious Fact” is an enjoyable read, and would be a perfect airplane book.

AN OBVIOUS FACT (Pol Proc-Sheriff Walt Longmire-Wyoming/SD-Contemp) – G+
Johnson, Craig – 12th in series
Vikiing – Sept 2016

Presumption of Guilt (Joe Gunther Mysteries (Hardcover))
Presumption of Guilt (Joe Gunther Mysteries (Hardcover))
by Archer Mayor Tri
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.17

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A solid police procedural with a solid plot that leaves you guessing all the way to the end., 5 Oct. 2016
First Sentence: Tony Farnum waited until he saw Barry’s face in the driver’s-side mirror before motioning him to back up, looking over his shoulder to make sure the concrete mixer’s rear wheels didn’t hit the staked wooden form bordering the pour site.

The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant has been decommissioned and parts, including a large concrete slab, are being dismantled. Works comes to a halt when a skeleton from 40 years ago is found within the concrete. First they need to identify him, then Joe Gunther and the Vermont Bureau of Investigation team need to find his killer. Are we talking the Mafia and money laundering, or something more personal?

Mayor’s dialogue is always real—“How’d we get the call?” he asked. “Through the state police. …” Joe nodded. “Okay. Given how that plant’s been a publicity s***-magnet since before it was plugged in, you better call the state’s attorney while I let our esteemed director know at HQ.”

Introducing us to the investigative team is essentially done in one, very effective and efficient paragraph. However, we not only know the investigators, but get to know their families and partners as well. There is even a romance aspect. Although it is an adult, sexual relationship, it’s behind closed doors so no one’s sensibilities are disturbed.

It is also not very often a police procedural includes a likable, very well spoken, crook. Plus, we’re given insight into the operation of different sheriff’s departments.

The plot is very much a police procedural; a matter of brainstorming followed by chasing down leads with the occasional injection of suspense and excitement. It’s an investigation with a lot of possibilities and twists.

“Presumption of Guilt” isn’t a single-man, hot-shot cop story, but a really solid police procedural with an excellent ensemble of characters, and a very good, solid plot that leaves you guessing all the way to the end.

PRESUMPTION OF GUILT: A JOE GUNTHER NOVEL (Pol Proc-Joe Gunther-Vermont-Contemp) – VG+
Mayor, Archer – 27th in series
Minotaur Books – Sept 2016

Blind Sight: Kathy Mallory 12 (Kathleen Mallory 12)
Blind Sight: Kathy Mallory 12 (Kathleen Mallory 12)
by Carol O'Connell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read. O'Connell has created a character that is truly individual, 5 Oct. 2016
First Sentence: If they knew why he had come here, all these men would turn away.

A Catholic nun and a young blind boy, Jonah Quill, have gone missing; vanished in front of a sidewalk full of people. The nun’s body, along with three others, turn up on the front lawn of Gracie Mansion, home to the mayor of New York City. But where is the boy; a boy who is the younger brother to the nun. Mallory will dig through all the lies, including those of the mayor, in order to find this lost child.

Carol O’Connell’s use of imagery never fails to impress—“The stall was shallow, sized to fit a narrow sidewalk that was choked with sneakers and sandals as the walking tour walked on.” Her descriptions of people are immediately recognizable—“The mayor’s aide, Samuel Tucker, was puffed up with all the importance of an entitled far boy from some college of fastidious twits.” Part of what makes Mallory such a captivating character is her complete distain for artifice.

Mallory truly is one of those rare, completely unique characters who makes one extremely uncomfortable, but fascinating. It is the “humanness” of those around her who make her acceptable, even though she forces the world to deal with her on her terms. It’s not out of cruelty, but because it is the way she can control her world. Yet, one should not overlook the tiny “easter egg” O’Connell provides.

And then there are those around her who, in a sense, inherited her. Her partner Riker, her superior Coffee, and all the others; particularly Charles, who is the antithesis is of Mallory. Although readers would really need to go back to the beginning of the series in order to fully understand these relationships, O’Connell does a good job of allowing new readers to step in and have a good sense of who they all are

The plot is as complex and unique as are the characters, which is what makes this such a strong and compelling read. The times away from Mallory, and through Jonah, are where one really sees O’Connell’s ability to convey emotion.

With O’Connell, it’s not the crime or the investigation that holds you, although it has suspense that peaks, then levels, then peaks again. It truly is the characters; both those who are continuing throughout the series, and those who are part only of this story. But most of all, it has the incomparable Mallory.

“Blind Sight” is an excellent read. But above all, it is the writing and O’Connell’s ability to create something truly individual that draws one in and keeps one there to the very last word.

BLIND SIGHT (Pol Proc-Det. Mallory-New York City-Contemp) - Ex
O’Connell, Carol – 12th in series
G.P. Putnam’s Sons – Sept 2016

By James Runcie Sidney Chambers and The Shadow of Death (The Grantchester Mysteries) (First Edition)
By James Runcie Sidney Chambers and The Shadow of Death (The Grantchester Mysteries) (First Edition)
by James Runcie
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars A well-done collection of mysteries, but it’s also a study of humanity, 5 Oct. 2016
First Sentence: Canon Sidney Chambers had never intended to become a detective.

Vicar of Grantchester, Sidney Chambers, is a bachelor and veteran of battle during WWII. With his backgammon and pint friend Insp. Geordie Keating, and his friends, Sidney becomes involved in much more than baptisms and wedding; sometimes mystery is on the agenda.

What a wonderful collection of six short stories this is. Although they are “cozy”, as in no profanity, sex, or overt violence, some of the themes are quite serious.

Because of Sidney’s past in the war, the topic of PTSD, even though not recognized as such then, is addressed, as is racism and prejudice of several kinds. There is certainly the theme of faith, but rather than blind faith, it is questioning and uncertain. Sidney questions his vocation, and certainly questions his participation in some of the mysteries with which he becomes involved.

Beside Sidney and Geordie, Ruskin has created very real supporting characters in Mrs. Maguire, the housekeeper, Curate, Leonard Graham, Sidney’s friend, Amanda Kendall, and the dog, “What the Dickens.” They add dimension, and occasionally conflict, to the stories.

There is a delightful thread that runs through the stories of everyone assuming—“I had you down as a sherry man.” “Most people do…but I’d prefer whisky if that’s possible.”

Ruskin‘s wonderful use of language makes this such a treat to read—“I’m not stupid, Canon Chambers. I know how to keep secrets. Have you heard of Tupperware?...Nothing gets in; nothing comes out.” His descriptions are evocative—“Autumn was his favorite time of year, not simply for its changing colours but for the crispness in the air and the sharpness of the light. There are nicely done analogies—“The snow had muffled the once audible cries of the world. It was like grace, he decided, or the love of God, coming down silently and unexpectedly in the night.”

“Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death” is a collection of mysteries, but it’s also a study of humanity and faith in general, as well as the question of at what cost comes pride.

SIDNEY CHAMBERS AND THE SHADOW OF DEATH (Trad Mys/Pol Proc-Sidney Chambers/Insp. Geordie Keating-Grantchester, Eng-1953) – G+
Runcie, James – 1st book of short stories
Bloomsbury, USA – Apr 2012

Face Blind: A Mystery
Face Blind: A Mystery
by Lance Hawvermale
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.87

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hard to describe but completely absorbing; definitely a compelling read., 8 Sept. 2016
This review is from: Face Blind: A Mystery (Hardcover)
First Sentence: No rain has fallen here in four hundred years.

Gabriel Traylin witnesses a murder outside an observatory in Chili’s Adacama desert. By the time the police arrive, the body has disappeared. What is found is a bag containing a severely mutilated body. Due to prospagnosia, a neurological condition which prevents one from being able to differentiate facial features, Gabe can’t describe the killer, or the victim, to the police, making him a suspect. With the help of three strangers, Gabe sets out to find the killer he thinks of as The Messenger.

How fascinating to be in a setting new to most readers—“Four hundred years, not a single teardrop from the sky. … Precipitation here was measured in millimeters, and even then it came only as an infrequent fog—and to learn about a neurological condition of which I doubt many readers have heard, let alone trying to imagine living with—“Gabe has grown up recognizing is mother by her clothing, her slender wedding band, and of course by her voice.”

Such unique characters Hawvemale has created; Gabe who can’t recognize faces, Mira and her brother Luke who can only read the words in one book, Ben the author of that one book which is the only book he ever wrote, and Vicente who is Gabe’s friend from the observatory. Yes, there are a few TSTL (too stupid to live) moments, but they make a weird sense when you consider the characters.

The author has an interesting use of language—“Gabe closed his eyes and wove that name on the loom in his mind. Alban Olivares. He bound the threads around the soldier’s fallen body, making him into something more than just a runner in the night. By christening him, Gabe created him.”—so much so one is inclined to check whether it is a translation. The plot is highly unpredictable. You never quite know where it’s going, but it’s filled with excellent twists. When danger comes, it is an unexpected and shocking to the reader as if it was real. The story has a good ending, even if rather unbelievable.

“Face Blind” is hard to describe but completely absorbing. It may not be the best written book, but it definitely a compelling read.

FACE BLIND (Susp-Gabe Traylin-Chile-Contemp) – Good
Hawvemale, Lance – 1st in series
Minotaur Books – August 2016

Dead Angler (A Loon Lake Mystery)
Dead Angler (A Loon Lake Mystery)
by Victoria Houston
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A very enjoyable read with increasing suspense., 8 Sept. 2016
First Sentence: Dr. Osborne struggled for balance in the waist-high waters of the roiling Prairie River

Retired dentist and widower Doc Osborn decides to rekindle his love of fly fishing with the help of fishing instructor, and town sheriff, “Lew” Ferris. What they don’t expect to find is the body of a well-dressed woman who has had all her dental fillings removed. Enlisting Doc, and his friend Roy, to help, Lew is determined to find the killer.

Houston perfectly describes fly fishing and the nature of those who love it—“No sport, except fly fishing, can take you so close to the heart of the water.”—or the inherent sexism—“Sure, she held a man’s job but still…learning to fish from a woman? He couldn’t get over it.”

The author’s voice brings her characters to life—“Why am I doing this? He had badgered himself as he hurried to keep up. Isn’t a 63-year-old retired dentist entitled to a life of grace and dignity? Dignity was out of the question as he plopped around in his boxy waters...” Each of the characters are introduced in such a way that we have a feel for who they are and their backgrounds. The one rather unfortunate aspect is that the author chose to present the late wife in such a negative fashion. In fact, one has the sense that the author doesn’t seem to like many of her characters.

One rather amusing, yet important, point in the plot is the existence of the telephone party line. Yes, a few do still exist in rural and/or isolated communities. It does add an amusing element to the story. And, on another element, what book focused on fishing would be complete without a recipe for cooking fish?

Good twists add a more serious note to the plot, and one introduces an element very relevant to current affairs.

“Dead Angler” is a very enjoyable read with increasing suspense. The ending is a bit pat, but the story certain holds ones interest.

DEAD ANGLER (Trad Mys-Paul Osborn/Lewellyn Ferris-WI-Contemp) – Good
Houston, Victoria – 1st in series
Berkeley – April 2000

What Gold Buys (Silver Rush Mysteries (Paperback))
What Gold Buys (Silver Rush Mysteries (Paperback))
by Ann Parker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.01

5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent historical mystery with a very exciting climax and an intriguing ending, 8 Sept. 2016
First Sentence: It was hard to find somewhere close by the crowded silver mining boomtown to practice killing a man, but Antonia was nothing if not determined

Inez Stannert and her husband, Mark, are back in Leadville. The wife of their friend and partner in the Silver Queen Saloon is due to deliver their first child but is distressed by the words of fortune-teller Drina Gizzi. Drina’s child, Antonia, has been posing as a boy, Tony, to get work but Inez isn’t fooled. When Drina’s mother is murdered, and her body disappears the question is whether she is still alive, or was she stolen by a resurrection man? Inez is determined to keep Antonia safe and help find the killer.

Stories that are more than one note are so much more interesting, and Parker has given us a full symphony. That there are multiple threads doesn’t cause the plot to be confusing. It, instead, creates a rich, multi-dimensional cloth. Sorry for the mixed metaphors; blame enthusiasm. However, it’s not often a book opens with the planning of a murder, and you find yourself rooting for the potential killer.

Parker does a very good job of bringing readers, new and previous, up to speed on the characters and the state of life in Leadville. The numerous relationships, with their conflicts and complications, make this a fascinating story. We truly see life as it was during this time; not of the wealthy, but of the scrappers and survivors, those who have made their own way, from Inez down to the kids on the street. One can’t help but admire the “newsies.” They are the ragtag kids—some orphaned, some not—who sell broadsheets and work the clean-up jobs, but how help one another survive.

Although all the characters are effective, it is to Inez and Antonia we gravitate. Inez is intelligent, independent, strong and capable, and we see those same attributes in Antonia. They’ve learned the hard way that they need to depend on themselves, and friends, to get by. Inez also knows, and accepts, who she is, without underestimating herself or women in general.

Where some books may include descriptions of food, as Inez owns a saloon, we learn more about alcohol. One will now know the ingredients of a hot Scotch whisky sling. Yet food wasn’t always cheese biscuits or poor fare—“We’d start with soup, fresh oysters in chicken broth….Then, baked trout, turkey and quail pie, prairie chicken on roast, green peas. Potatoes, lobster, nuts, coffee and pound cake.” And that’s just dinner for two. And then, there are the details about the clothing of the time, which is quite fascinating.

Beyond all the well-researched period details is a very well-written story of relationships, gamblers and philanders, of spiritualists and murder. There is very good suspense which builds well throughout the story.

“What Gold Buys” is an excellent historical mystery with a very exciting climax and an intriguing ending which leaves readers wanting to know what happens next.

WHAT GOLD BUYS (Hist Mys-Inez Stannart-Leadville, CO-1880) – Ex
Parker, Ann – 5th in series
Poisoned Pen Press – Sept 2016

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