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Posts Tagged ‘Elizabeth George’

Martha Grimes’ clever Richard Jury novels take their titles from British pubs, and there have been some doozies over the years: I Am the Only Running Footman, Help the Poor Struggler, Five Bells and Bladebone. So the 24th in the series, The Knowledge (Grove Atlantic, digital galley) seems merely another curiosity. But don’t go looking for it in London. The Knowledge, which refers to the street maps that the drivers of London’s famous black cabs know by heart, is also the name of a hidden, cabbies-only pub so secret that even Scotland Yard can’t find it. The story of the pub is one of the whimsical digressions in the murder case Jury is investigating, the shooting deaths of an American astronomer and his wife on the steps of a private casino. The shooter escapes in a black cab, but the stalwart driver alerts his network and Patty Haigh, a sassy preteen Sherlock, manages to pick up his trail at Heathrow and wrangle a first-class ticket to Kenya. Jury will eventually dispatch his pal Melrose Plant on safari to find Patty, while placing antiques dealer Marshall Trueblood inside the casino to deal cards. The complicated plot involving drugs, stolen art and greedy villains, is almost an afterthought, but who cares when the gang’s all here, plus winsome newcomers. I was totally charmed. Like lovely Vivian, I can’t make up my mind between Jury and Plant, so I’ll take both, please.

The many charms of Venice are on full display in Donna Leon’s new Guido Brunetti novel, The Temptation of Forgiveness (Grove Atlantic, digital galley), which is as thoughtful as it is atmospheric. Brunetti moves adroitly from vicious office politics to happy family life to investigating the case of a comatose beating victim. Turns out he is the accountant husband of a teacher whom Brunetti’s wife knows and who recently approached Brunetti about the drug problem at her son’s private school. Is there a connection? Perhaps. Meanwhile, what of the man’s elderly aunt, a Miss Havisham-like figure in a Venice apartment? The leisurely plot hinges on government corruption to no one’s surprise, this being a city long familiar with frauds of all kinds. But there’s something particularly unjust about a system that takes advantage of its most vulnerable citizens. Here’s a vision of Venice that tourists don’t see, and it’s not pretty.

Scotland Yard’s Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers return in Elizabeth George’s immersive doorstop The Punishment She Deserves (Penguin, purchased e-book), but so does their boss, Isabelle Ardery, who exists on vodka and breath mints. There’s no love lost between Lynley and Ardery, even though or because of a brief affair, but Ardery really has it in for Havers. So she takes the DS with her to Ludlow to investigate a possible case of police malfeasance, hoping Havers will go rogue and hang herself. Six weeks earlier, a church deacon suspected of pedophilia hung himself while in police custody, but the dead man’s influential parents insist he would never commit suicide. Ardery wants to make sure the original investigation was legit so as to avert any lawsuit, but Havers keeps picking at loose ends, of which there are many. Also multiple suspects, motives and red herrings. It will take Lynley’s late intervention to prove Havers right and get the case back on track but not before readers have met three college students rooming together in a rundown house, a community police officer with dyslexia, another police officer with family problems who likes to hang glide, a bar owner with an upstairs room to rent by the hour, a homeless man with a dog and claustrophobia, and Ardery’s ex, who is about to take their twin sons to live in New Zealand. There’s rather too much of Ardery and not enough Lynley to my liking, but Havers tap dances. Really.

YA crossover alert. Maureen Johnson launches an intriguing new series with Truly Devious (HarperCollins, purchased e-book), which is somewhat reminiscent of  her Shades of London series, with its boarding school setting and teenage protagonist. But Ellingham Academy was established by an eccentric tycoon in rural Vermont, and only accepts the best and the brightest, for whom tuition is free. Stevie Bell gets in because of her obsession with true crime and detecting skills, and she vows to solve an infamous cold case despite her panic attacks. Back in 1936, the founder’s wife and daughter were kidnapped and a student died. The only clue was a nasty rhyme signed “Truly Devious.” Just as Stevie is getting used to the weirdness that is Ellingham and her fellow students, Truly Devious appears to strike again and the book ends with a cliffhanger. Johnson increases the suspense of the Christie-like case by alternating narratives between present day and 1936. Waiting for the next installment is going to be difficult, but I’ve had experience with Brittany Cavallaro’s Charlotte Holmes  series, which continues with The Case for Jamie (HarperCollins, library hardcover). The first book, A Study in Charlotte, found Sherlock Holmes’ descendant Charlotte Holmes meeting up with Dr. Watson’s descendant Jamie Watson at an American boarding school, where they were targeted by members of the Moriarty crime family. Then events turned even darker in The Last of August, and as the third book begins, best friends Jamie and Charlotte haven’t spoken in a year. Jamie’s back at school for his senior year, with a nice girlfriend and no idea as to Charlotte’s whereabouts. He no longer trusts her after a shocking betrayal. But the Moriarty clan is apparently bent on ruining Jamie’s life so as to get to Charlotte, who is feeling guilty and driven as she tries to save him from afar. They alternate narrating chapters, often at cross-purposes until finally joining forces to defeat Lucien Moriarty or die trying, which is a real possibility. A happy ending? Not going to tell you.

 

 

 

 

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darkcornersI tried to take my time with Ruth Rendell’s Dark Corners (Scribner, digital galley), knowing there aren’t going to be any more books from the prolific British crime writer. Rendell, who also wrote as Barbara Vine, died in May at age 85, and it’s fitting that this final novel of psychological suspense offers a trademark tricky plot. So much for savoring every sentence — I was too busy flipping pages as Carl Martin’s life spirals out of control.

Carl’s a writer in his early 20s who has inherited a big house in an up-and-coming London neighborhood. Somewhat lazy and a little greedy, he rents the upstairs to the very first applicant, Dermott McKinnon, who seems a nice-enough fellow. Carl not only neglects to throw out his late father’s homeopathic remedies, he also sells some of the pills to an actress friend, who is then found dead. Carl feels bad, but he feels a lot worse when Dermott starts blackmailing him by withholding his rent. Even as Dermott further insinuates himself into Carl’s life, a young woman named Lizzie is taking advantage of her actress pal’s death, moving into her flat and wearing her wardrobe. Tsk, tsk. There will be consequences.

Rendell, always more interested in why than who, expertly juggles  her parallel plots, upping the ante with a murder and a kidnapping. We know her guilty characters are going to collide around some dark corner, but which one? Creepy.

banquetElizabeth George’s new doorstop, A Banquet of Consequences (Viking Penguin, review copy) features one of those poisonous characters you love to hate. Caroline Goodacre is a middle-aged meddler, an overprotective mother, spiteful wife and hypocritical friend, always ready with the withering put-down in hopes of wrong-footing her perceived adversary. But did she poison her employer, a famous feminist author, or was the fatal dose meant for her?

That’s the puzzle facing aristocratic Inspector Thomas Lynley of Scotland Yard and his workaday sidekick Sgt. Barbara Havers, who is threatened with transfer after haring off to Italy in the last book. But a Havers on good behavior is a less-effective detective, as Lynley points out to his boss (and former lover). Still, it takes Havers a while to shake off the short leash, which allows George time to digress on a number of subjects, from dogs trained to treat anxiety to Havers’ deplorable taste in T-shirts. Also, depression, abuse and suicide. If you like your books leisured and detailed with many, many characters, A Banquet of Consequences proves richly satisfying.

prettygirlsBack in the summer, Karin Slaughter wrote a nifty novella — Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes (HarperCollins, digital galley) — about a pretty college newspaper reporter looking into the disappearances of pretty women near the University of Georgia campus in 1991. Turns out that was the prequel to her hard-hitting fall thriller Pretty Girls (HarperCollins, digital galley). The Carroll family has never gotten over the unsolved disappearance of eldest daughter Julia some 20 years while a UGA student. The elder Carrolls’ marriage dissolved, sister Lydia turned to drugs, estranging herself from her sister Claire, who made a safe marriage to steady Paul. But after Paul is killed by a mugger in an alley with Claire as witness, Claire discovers nasty computer files hinting at her husband’s hidden life. Paul’s business partner wants the flash drive, as does the FBI. Claire is forced to ask Lydia for help, and the two show considerable ingenuity and guts confronting an unexpected foe and revelations about Julia’s disappearance.

Pretty Girls is not for the faint of heart nor weak of stomach. It’s grisly and twisted, and it grips like a hand from the grave.

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speculationFortune-tellers and floods, mermaids and mysteries, a traveling carnival and a tumble-down house threatening to fall into the sea. Erika Swyler packs all these and more into her first novel The Book of Speculation (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley), which both fascinates and frustrates with its alternating narratives. In the present, reference librarian Simon Watson lives in the family house slowly sliding into the Long Island Sound where his mother — a circus mermaid — curiously drowned when he and his sister Enola were children. Simon looked after Enola while their grief-stricken father withered away, but six years ago, she ran off with their mother’s tarot cards and no plans to ever return. But then Simon receives a mysterious, water-damaged old book in the mail, and Enola calls to say she’ll be home in July. Simon is alarmed because the book — the logbook of a traveling carnival — shows generations of the women in his family all drowning on July 24th.   In the past storyline, a mute boy known as Amos is adopted by carnival owner, apprenticed to a Russian fortune-teller and is captivated by Evangeline, who may be a mermaid and is possibly a murderess. That the two storylines will eventually converge is a foregone conclusion, but the “how” makes for the suspense. Still, the novel’s rickety underpinnings sag under the weight of so many coincidences, romances and misfortunes that its magic begins to wane. The Book of Speculation ends up being both too much and too little. But I did like the horseshoe crabs.

dayshiftReaders of Charlaine Harris’s Midnight Crossing know that strangers to the dusty Texas town of Midnight are not nearly as strange as its residents. Phone psychic Manfredo Bernardo learned that when he moved to Midnight and discovered his neighbors included a witch, a shape-shifter, a couple of angels and a vampire. Still, things have taken a turn for the really strange in Harris’ follow-up, the entertaining Day Shift (Penguin Berkley, review copy). For starters, Manfredo is suspected of murder after one of his clients drops dead, and then the Reverend, who tends the little church and adjacent pet cemetery, takes in a young boy who grows taller — really taller — every day. Beautiful Olivia Channing is keeping all kinds of secrets while her vampire gentleman friend Lemuel is away. But what’s really weird is that a mysterious corporation is supposedly turning the abandoned Midnight Hotel into a luxury resort but also has relocated some indigent Las Vegas seniors to the premises. And just to keep things interesting, Harris brings in a couple of characters from her Sookie Stackhouse series as strange events come to a head under a full moon. Some mysteries are resolved, but others only deepen. A third book, please?

boneyardIslands have a certain magic, some more than others.  In author Susan M. Boyer’s mind, the fictional South Carolina island of Stella Maris is located a hop, skip, a couple of bridges and a ferry ride from Charleston. The picturesque beach community is also home base for PI Liz Talbot, although her hunky partner Nate wants her to move upstate in Lowcountry Boneyard (Henery Press, digital galley). As readers of the previous two books in this perky series know, Liz has a secret tie to the island in the shape of a ghostly guardian angel, her late best friend, Colleen, who conveniently pops up to warn of danger or gather clues in the spirit world. This time, Liz is searching for missing Charleston heiress Kent Heyward whom the police consider a rich-girl runaway. After meeting Kent’s family — including her stern father, matriarch Abigail and creepy twin uncles — Liz thinks Kent may have had good reason to leave town, but Kent’s chef boyfriend Matt and her BFF Ansley assure her otherwise. Dangerous surprises await when Liz goes poking around in a local cemetery and digging up family secrets in the lowcountry and upstate, but Colleen can’t come to the rescue if Liz is too far away from Stella Maris. Not to give anything away, but the fourth book in the series is due in the fall.

mysteriousElizabeth George, best known for her Inspector Thomas Lynley series, has a high old time with The Mysterious Disappearance of the Reluctant Book Fairy (Mysterious Press/Open Road, digital galley), her contribution to the Press short story series Bibliomysteries. At just under 50 pages, it’s a tale easily consumed in one sitting, true escapist reading a la Jasper Fforde. Janet Shore, the sickly youngest child in a boisterous Washington state family, perfects the art of escaping into a book at an early age. Literally. “Given a heart rending scene of emotion (Mary Ingalls going blind!), a thrilling adventure in a frightening cave (Tom, Huck, and Injun Joe!), a battle with pirates (Peter Pan and Captain Hook!), and our Janet was actually able to transport herself into the scene itself. And not as a passive observer, mind you, but rather as a full participant in the story.” Janet first entertains herself and classmates with book traveling, but gives it up when she grows older and has her heart broken. Then her best childhood friend Monie conspires to get Janet — now Annapurna — a job at the local library, where the overbearing Mildred Bantry sees a way to make money by setting up a book tourism company, Epic!, with Annapurna as chief tour guide. George has a lot of fun with this conceit, as will readers who can only imagine the joys of escaping into the pages of a favorite book or Greek myth. As for Annapurna/Janet’s choice of the perfect pages in which to get lost, let me just say that I’ll happily join her some gaudy night.

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tatianaAsked if Russian police detective Arkady Renko is depressed because he has a wandering bullet in his brain, one of his colleague notes that “he’s not a ray of sunshine.” But in Martin Cruz Smith’s Tatiana (Simon and Schuster, digital galley), it’s melancholy Renko’s persistent idealism that shines like a beacon in dreary, corrupt Kalingrad, an industrial outpost on the Baltic. He ends up there because he doesn’t believe that crusading journalist Tatiana Petrova’s fall from a sixth-floor Moscow apartment was a suicide, and that she was killed after obtaining a coded notebook belonging to an interpreter killed on a Kalingrad beach. While his young chess-whiz friend Zhenya tries to decipher the symbols and gibberish in the notebook, Renko follows a complicated trail eventually involving a dead mob boss, his impulsive son and shadowy partners, an amber mine, Russian submarines, Chinese businessmen and a stolen bicycle. Bullets fly, but Renko’s not ready to give up on life, not by a long shot.

nightingaleRuth Rendell’s venerable detective Reg Wexford is officially retired, but in No Man’s Nightingale (Scribner, digital galley), he takes time off from reading Gibbon’s hefty Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to help find the killer of the local vicar. But this is no armchair cozy — the strangled vicar is single mother Sarah Hussain, whose gender, race and progressive views have divided St. Peter’s congregation. Indeed, Wexford’s former colleague, Mike Burden,  decides the murder is a hate crime and collars a likely suspect with motive and opportunity. But after meeting the dead woman’s teenage daughter and and a couple of longtime friends, Wexford suspects her complicated past — of which he hears several versions — may have played into her murder.  He also picks up clues from the constant prattle of his gossipy house cleaner, who found the body, and who unwittingly reveals details of another crime. Even as he copes with the loss of power and respect that came with his former job, Wexford proves himself as astute a detective as ever, as canny as his creator.

paganThe vicar is the hero and the heartthrob in Pagan Spring (St. Martin’s Press, purchased e-book), the third in G.M. Malliet’s witty series featuring Max Tudor, a former MI5 agent whose sleuthing skills were tested in Wicked Autumn and A Fatal Winter. Max has had little problem fitting into the village life of postcard-pretty Nether Monkslip, although he’s disappointed the ladies by taking up with Alwena Owen, a New Age herbalist. But several newcomers trouble the community’s apparent serenity, including a famous actor and playwright past his prime, his much-younger wife, and an enigmatic hairstylist from France who writes long e-mails. Of course, there’s a murder for Max to solve, and he is both helped and hindered by his friends, including the members of the Writers’ Square (because everybody has a writers’ circle). Old secrets come to light as villagers confront unpleasant truth. Fans of Miss Marple will feel right at home.

evilactScotland Yard detectives Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers take off for Italy in Elizabeth George’s Just One Evil Act (Dutton/Penguin, digital galley), with Havers risking her career in search of Hadiyyah, her 9-year-old neighbor. The girl is apparently with her English mother, who never married the Pakistani microbiologist who begs Havers for help. Not much can be done officially or legally, but Havers, more unlovely than ever, goes off on a tear, and handsome, aristocratic Lynley covers for her. The twisting plot, with echoes of the Amanda Knox case and that of still-missing Madeleine McCann, is absorbing, but at more than 700 pages, the book is overly long, and Havers’ self-destructive behavior grows tiresome. She’s better and brighter than this, as a charming Italian detective discerns.

cleelandNow, imagine that Lynley was sexually obsessed with Havers, and you’ll have an idea of the discomfiting atmosphere of  Anne Cleeland’s Murder in Thrall (Kensington, digital galley). Scotland Yard newcomer Kathleen Doyle isn’t really sure why Chief Inspector Michael Acton has taken her under his wing on a homicide case, but readers will quickly realize he’s been stalking her on the sly. When Lord Acton makes his intentions clear, Doyle is more than willing, although she takes a minute to worry about jeopardizing her career. I’ve already forgotten the murder this odd couple was investigating. Cleeland is better than this, as her appealing historical mystery Daughter of the God-King (Sourcebooks, digital galley) proves. Enjoy intrepid Miss Hattie Blackstone’s adventures in France and Egypt as she looks for missing archaeologists — who happen to be her parents.

cambridgePublisher William Morrow/HarperCollins is feeding my addiction to British crime with its new Witness Impulse e-book series. I’m a longtime fan of Frances Fyfield and Stephen Booth, and it’s good to see their titles available. But I’m especially happy to be introduced to excellent police procedurals by Alison Bruce (Cambridge Blue, The Calling), Mari Hannah (The Murder Wall) and Leigh Russell (Cut Short, Road Closed). Bruce’s Gary Goodhew is the youngest member of the Cambridge police force, Mari Hannah’s Kate Daniels is working homicide cases in Northumberland, and Russell’s Geraldine Steele is a DI in the rural town of Woolmarsh.

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Reading Elmore Leonard’s new novel Raylan, I can no longer separate the title character from Timothy Olyphant, who plays Raylan Givens on  TV’s Justified on TV. Of course, the FX series is based on a couple of earlier Leonard tales about the laconic U.S. marshal, and lean, blue-jeaned Olyphant has made the part his own. Leonard must think so, too — that’s the TV Raylan on the cover.

Although the book shares some outrageous characters and twisted plot lines with the series, it’s not a duplicate. Rather, it’s a complement as Leonard surehandedly tracks Givens juggling three cases in Harlan County, Ky. — human organ trafficking, mining schemes,  gambling and bank robbery –and coming up against three formidable females: a transplant nurse, a coal-company exec, and a risk-taker of a college student.

Leonard is such a pro at this kind of down’n’dirty, droll storytelling, and Raylan such a cool guy. Can’t take my eyes off him, in print or on screen.

Every now and then in the early morning, I’ll see one of the local crew teams out on a nearby lake. They make rowing look so easy as they skim across the water, and I’m duly mesmerized. I had much the same feeling reading the first chapter of Deborah Crombie’s No Mark Upon Her, in which a Met detective with dreams of the Olympics takes her shell out in the Thames in the early dusk. “She was moving now, listening to the whoosh and thunk as the oars went in, followed by an instant of absolute silence as they came out of the water and the boat plunged forward like a living thing. It was perfect rhythm, this, it was music. The boat was singing, and she was a part of it, lifting from the water like a bird.”

The next day the cry goes up for a missing rower, and Scotland Yard’s Duncan Kincaid, returning from holiday, is rerouted to Henley to investigate. His wife, DI Gemma James, returns to London with their two sons and their foster daughter, Charlotte, but eventually she, too, will be involved in the case with its controversial ties to police politics and sexual abuse.

It’s a layered, complicated tale that also involves members of the prestigious Leander Club, an Iraq war veteran with post-traumatic stress, Duncan and Gemma’s balancing act of work and home, Charlotte’s 3rd birthday party themed to Alice in Wonderland, and two memorable search-and-rescue dogs. Yes, the kids and the dogs threaten to upstage proceedings, but Crombie steers all to a pulse-pounding ending.

Kids and dogs also figure in Sara Paretsky’s Breakdown, the 15th in the excellent V.I. Warshawski series. Vic finds trouble as she tries to keep a group of young teens out of trouble. The girls are paying homage to their favorite vampire stories in a Chicago cemetery when a man is staked in the heart nearby. Coincidence? Maybe not. One girl is the daughter of a Senate candidate, another the granddaughter of a Jewish immigrant philanthropist, and both families have drawn the vitriolic ire of right-wing newscaster Wade Lawlor. The dead man is a shady private detective who may have been working for Lawlor.

Trying to keep the girls out of the glaring media spotlight, Vic finds connections among the “vampire killing,” her wealthy best friend Ashden’s bipolar behavior, and a state mental hospital with a wing for the criminally insane. It’s a terrific book to read during an election year, touching on hot-button issues like immigration and negative campaigning.

I think those may be about the only two topics not included in Elizabeth George’s Believing the Lie, the newest outing for Scotland Yard’s aristocratic Thomas Lynley and his proletarian partner Barbara Havers. Tabloid journalism, drug addiction, gay marriage, infertilty, surrogacy, adoption, adultery, internet predators, pedophilia, alcoholism, dysfunctional families, buried secrets. George’s kitchen-sink-and-more plot is a tangled web, indeed.

As Lynley looks into an accidental drowning in the Lake District with the help of forensic scientist Simon St. James and his photographer wife Deborah, Havers mines the family history of the wealthy Faircloughs and gets her hair cut and colored. The latter digression will be appreciated by series’ fans up on the series characters’ personal lives. And it’s actually Deborah’s continuing quest to have a baby that dovetails with a major plot point concerning the beautiful wife of a Fairclough scion. Even though George delivers a boat-load of red herrings, shame on you if you can’t see where the story’s headed.

If you’re looking for a new series, I suggest The Anatomist’s Apprentice by Tessa Harris, which introduces Sir Thomas Silkstone, a young Philadelphia surgeon who comes to London in 1774 to learn more anatomy. He is asked by Lady Lydia Farrell to study the decomposing body of her brother, Sir Edward Crick, who died under mysterious circumstances, and so begins his career as a pioneering forensic detective.

If you’re not put off by the gooey and gory details of Kathy Reichs’ novels and the TV show Bones, and you’ve already gloried in Ariana Franklin’s historicals, you’ll be entertained by Silverstone’s sharp dissection of corpses and detection of clues.

Open Book: I read review copies of Elmore Leonard’s Raylan (Morrow) and Crombie’s No Mark Upon Her (Morrow), an advance reading copy of Harris’ The Anatomist’s Apprentice (Kensington), and borrowed copies of Paretsky’s Breakdown (Penguin Group) and George’s Believing the Lie (Penguin Group) from the wonderful Orange County Library.

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