Book Reviews–And Now It's Gloria Feit's Turn

So Cold the River
Michael Koryta
Back Bay Books, 2011
ISBN: 9780316053648
Trade Paperback

Michael Koryta‘s latest novel* starts out innocently enough.  Eric Shaw, in his recent former life an LA cinematographer before that career crashed and burned and now in his early thirties, has for the past two years lived in Chicago, trying to make a living filming memorial videos for presentation at funerals.  He is approached by a beautiful young woman who asks him to prepare such a video in honor of her father-in-law, a famously reclusive billionaire, ninety-five years old and near death in a hospital.  She offers Eric a very generous amount of money to travel to Southern Indiana to trace his early years in furtherance of the project.  The only artifact of her father-in-law which she can provide is a small flask of water which derived from underground mineral springs, now apparently defunct, and known as Pluto Water, which had been touted as having nearly miraculous healing powers.

Before leaving, Eric visits the old man in the hospital.  Initially unresponsive, the first intimations of what is to come occur when what Eric sees through the viewfinder of his camera are not what his eyes had just seen, but instead the essence of that on which, or who, they focused. Enigmatically, the old man says to Eric, “so cold the river.” Or does he?

Eric goes to the town in question, West Baden Springs, and finds himself unable to resist tasting the water from the strange little bottle he has been given.  The results are immediate, chaotic, and nearly addictive, and his life, and the book, goes off in strange, surreal directions.  In the aftermath Eric, who has a history of psychic tendencies, has visions, encounters dead people, and sees scenes from the past apparently reenacted before his eyes.

Throughout, there are ominous signs of an impending storm of perhaps historical proportions.

Somewhat daunted by the book’s sizeable heft, and by my usual aversion to most things Gothic or which invoke the supernatural, I nonetheless
found the pages turning rapidly, completely swept up in the tale the author has spun, so masterful is the writing, and I recommend it highly as another terrific book by Michael Koryta.

*Actually, his next novel, “The Cypress House,” was released on January 24, 2011.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bury Your Dead
Louise Penny
Minotaur Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-37704-5
Hardcover

The book takes place in and around Quebec City, Canada, where the dwindling Anglophone community feels it is still fighting wars 250 years in the past.  One which the English had won, “securing Quebec for the English, on paper,” but not so in actuality.  Even beyond the strong separatist feelings, there is a great deal of animosity between the two cultures [Francophones being the other], down to the refusal of most of its citizens to learn the language of the other.  As the Quebecois say, “je me souviens,” I remember.  We are told that “not everything buried is actually dead. For many, the past is alive.”

The plot deals with two present-day murders, and the author teases the reader by alternating the chapters between the two investigations – indeed, three, as there is another involving deeds, and a dead body, from over a century ago.  A great deal of fascinating history is provided, regarding events of which I do not hesitate to admit that I [and I suspect many other non-Canadians] was unaware.

Inspector Gamache, “head of the most prestigious homicide unit in Canada, the Surete du Quebec,” returns in his sixth appearance.  This time around he is literally and figuratively scarred and haunted by recent events, a deadly incident involving the murder of one Surete officer and the kidnapping of another, pitting Gamache up against his superior officer who refuses to consider a scenario other than the one which he perceives to be the correct one in order to try to rescue their endangered colleague.   Now on leave, and haunted by the tragic outcome of the incident, Gamache is told by a trusted mentor that everything will heal, “avec le temps,” with time.

Gamache is described as “a man who preferred good books and long walks to any other activity.”  He also has a strong sense of justice, and feels duty bound to take another look at the case which was at the center of The Brutal Telling, the prior entry in the series, the murder of a hermit in the charming village of Three Pines, despite the fact that the man he had arrested for the murder was convicted and is presently serving his sentence.

The pace of the novel is a leisurely one, and although I could not figure out why I found it so slow-moving, I must say it gave me that much greater an opportunity to enjoy the charming prose.  The three prongs of the tale are all deftly and satisfyingly resolved, and Inspector Gamache is once more shown to be a clever and very human police officer.  Very enjoyable, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rogue Island
Bruce DeSilva
Forge, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2726-0
Hardcover

According to the author’s introductory words to this novel, he received a note in 1994 about a story he had written for the newspaper where he worked as a reporter in Providence, Rhode Island, suggesting that it could serve as the outline for a novel.  He did begin to write such a book, only to put it aside because of personal problems.  The note was from Evan Hunter (Ed McBain).  A couple of years ago, the author met Otto Penzler who, when he learned about the note, said: “Evan never had a good thing to say about anything anyone else wrote . . .  you’ve got to finish that novel.”

And we can all thank Otto Penzler and the late Evan Hunter for their encouragement.  This debut novel merits their praise, and then some. It is witty, well-paced, entertaining, cynical, and worthy of its nomination for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

Liam Mulligan is a wise-cracking investigative reporter for a Providence daily, who closely pursues a story on a series of fires in a small neighborhood that turn out to be cases of arson, resulting not only in destruction of property but fatalities.  It is up to Mulligan to uncover not only the schemes behind these crimes, but the corruption endemic to the State of Rhode Island, and specifically its capital, giving rise to the title of the novel.  No more about the plot, because you have to read the book.  And enjoy.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Beat
Stephen Jay Schwartz
Forge, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2295-1
Trade Paperback

This, it should be stated, is not an easy book to read.  It is, at the same time, completely compelling and nearly impossible to put down. An anomaly, it would seem.

The protagonist, LA Robbery-Homicide detective Hayden Glass, is many things:   unpredictable, often exhibiting self-destructive behavior [if not actually harboring a death wish], fiendish impulses and extreme violence.  It is sex-filled, as befits a tale whose protag is a sex addict.  He has even named his dark side – his inner addict – Rufus, putting one in mind of Dexter’s Dark Passenger.

Glass’ recent history is daunting:  He has received the Medal of Valor and then, off the record, ordered into a six-month medical leave with psychiatric care, talk therapy, and mandatory attendance at meetings for Sex Addicts Anonymous, a 12-step program similar to other such groups.  His addiction has also caused the end of his marriage.  On medical leave for two months as the book opens, Glass finds himself in San Francisco and obviously out of his jurisdiction.  He is soon stepping on the toes of both the SFPD and the FBI as he searches for a girl by whom he is obsessed, a young prostitute apparently in the clutches of two different factions of the Russian mob.  Police corruption soon becomes evident, and he doesn’t know who he can trust, and at first only succeeds in further endangering the girl.

Detective Glass made his first appearance in Boulevard, which I have not yet read.  Since I assume it may be several months until a follow-up novel appears, I think I’ll need to get my next dose of Mr. Schwartz’ fiction well before that.  It would seem that it’s very easy to fall prey to an addiction.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gone
Mo Hayder
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1964-3
Hardcover

DI Jack Caffery, an 18-year-veteran of the Murder Squad and presently head of Bristol’s Major Crime Investigation Unit, returns at a point six months after the events described in the author’s last novel, Skin. As the book opens, on a cold November night, Caffery is called to the scene of a carjacking in an underground car park, something one would not consider a case for the MCIU until it becomes known that an 11-year-old girl was in the car when it was taken.

Caffery puts a team together:  DC Prody, just coming off four years as a traffic cop; DS Paluzzi [nicknamed “Lollapalooza”], DS Turner, and at some point Phoebe [“Flea”] Marley, now a support-group sergeant who also runs the Underwater Search Unit.  [“She’d got her dumb nickname as a child because people told her she never looked before she leaped.  And because of her irritating, incurable energy.”]  There are secrets in both Caffery’s and Flea’s lives that play in the back of their thoughts, coincidentally both involving siblings; children at risk are also a large part of the plot.  The investigation takes a different turn when Flea tells Caffery there have been two other incidents closely following the same pattern, and they realize this was not just a random act.

The characters are very well-drawn and intriguing, especially Flea, who remembers her father telling her as a child “We don’t give up in this family.  It’s against the Marley code.  Ancient belief system.  Bad things happen when you do – – it’s like flying in the face of nature.”  And that persistent nature is a good part of what makes her such a terrific cop, and fascinating individual.

The reader is kept rapt for more or less the first half of the book just by the mystery of the identity of the hijacker, and what he may have done to the child [shudder].  Then there is a sudden shift in intensity, as the plot takes unexpected and quite startling twists and turns, and from that point on I could not put the book down till its conclusion, breath held a good part of the way there.  [I should add that my vocabulary has been enlarged by the terms “elasticated,” lumpenly,” and “forensicated,” which may just be a matter of Brit-speak.]

Happily, the final few pages hint of a return of Caffery and Flea, and one can only hope it will be soon.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2011.

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Book Reviews–And Now It’s Gloria Feit’s Turn

So Cold the River
Michael Koryta
Back Bay Books, 2011
ISBN: 9780316053648
Trade Paperback

Michael Koryta‘s latest novel* starts out innocently enough.  Eric Shaw, in his recent former life an LA cinematographer before that career crashed and burned and now in his early thirties, has for the past two years lived in Chicago, trying to make a living filming memorial videos for presentation at funerals.  He is approached by a beautiful young woman who asks him to prepare such a video in honor of her father-in-law, a famously reclusive billionaire, ninety-five years old and near death in a hospital.  She offers Eric a very generous amount of money to travel to Southern Indiana to trace his early years in furtherance of the project.  The only artifact of her father-in-law which she can provide is a small flask of water which derived from underground mineral springs, now apparently defunct, and known as Pluto Water, which had been touted as having nearly miraculous healing powers.

Before leaving, Eric visits the old man in the hospital.  Initially unresponsive, the first intimations of what is to come occur when what Eric sees through the viewfinder of his camera are not what his eyes had just seen, but instead the essence of that on which, or who, they focused. Enigmatically, the old man says to Eric, “so cold the river.” Or does he?

Eric goes to the town in question, West Baden Springs, and finds himself unable to resist tasting the water from the strange little bottle he has been given.  The results are immediate, chaotic, and nearly addictive, and his life, and the book, goes off in strange, surreal directions.  In the aftermath Eric, who has a history of psychic tendencies, has visions, encounters dead people, and sees scenes from the past apparently reenacted before his eyes.

Throughout, there are ominous signs of an impending storm of perhaps historical proportions.

Somewhat daunted by the book’s sizeable heft, and by my usual aversion to most things Gothic or which invoke the supernatural, I nonetheless
found the pages turning rapidly, completely swept up in the tale the author has spun, so masterful is the writing, and I recommend it highly as another terrific book by Michael Koryta.

*Actually, his next novel, “The Cypress House,” was released on January 24, 2011.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bury Your Dead
Louise Penny
Minotaur Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-37704-5
Hardcover

The book takes place in and around Quebec City, Canada, where the dwindling Anglophone community feels it is still fighting wars 250 years in the past.  One which the English had won, “securing Quebec for the English, on paper,” but not so in actuality.  Even beyond the strong separatist feelings, there is a great deal of animosity between the two cultures [Francophones being the other], down to the refusal of most of its citizens to learn the language of the other.  As the Quebecois say, “je me souviens,” I remember.  We are told that “not everything buried is actually dead. For many, the past is alive.”

The plot deals with two present-day murders, and the author teases the reader by alternating the chapters between the two investigations – indeed, three, as there is another involving deeds, and a dead body, from over a century ago.  A great deal of fascinating history is provided, regarding events of which I do not hesitate to admit that I [and I suspect many other non-Canadians] was unaware.

Inspector Gamache, “head of the most prestigious homicide unit in Canada, the Surete du Quebec,” returns in his sixth appearance.  This time around he is literally and figuratively scarred and haunted by recent events, a deadly incident involving the murder of one Surete officer and the kidnapping of another, pitting Gamache up against his superior officer who refuses to consider a scenario other than the one which he perceives to be the correct one in order to try to rescue their endangered colleague.   Now on leave, and haunted by the tragic outcome of the incident, Gamache is told by a trusted mentor that everything will heal, “avec le temps,” with time.

Gamache is described as “a man who preferred good books and long walks to any other activity.”  He also has a strong sense of justice, and feels duty bound to take another look at the case which was at the center of The Brutal Telling, the prior entry in the series, the murder of a hermit in the charming village of Three Pines, despite the fact that the man he had arrested for the murder was convicted and is presently serving his sentence.

The pace of the novel is a leisurely one, and although I could not figure out why I found it so slow-moving, I must say it gave me that much greater an opportunity to enjoy the charming prose.  The three prongs of the tale are all deftly and satisfyingly resolved, and Inspector Gamache is once more shown to be a clever and very human police officer.  Very enjoyable, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rogue Island
Bruce DeSilva
Forge, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2726-0
Hardcover

According to the author’s introductory words to this novel, he received a note in 1994 about a story he had written for the newspaper where he worked as a reporter in Providence, Rhode Island, suggesting that it could serve as the outline for a novel.  He did begin to write such a book, only to put it aside because of personal problems.  The note was from Evan Hunter (Ed McBain).  A couple of years ago, the author met Otto Penzler who, when he learned about the note, said: “Evan never had a good thing to say about anything anyone else wrote . . .  you’ve got to finish that novel.”

And we can all thank Otto Penzler and the late Evan Hunter for their encouragement.  This debut novel merits their praise, and then some. It is witty, well-paced, entertaining, cynical, and worthy of its nomination for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

Liam Mulligan is a wise-cracking investigative reporter for a Providence daily, who closely pursues a story on a series of fires in a small neighborhood that turn out to be cases of arson, resulting not only in destruction of property but fatalities.  It is up to Mulligan to uncover not only the schemes behind these crimes, but the corruption endemic to the State of Rhode Island, and specifically its capital, giving rise to the title of the novel.  No more about the plot, because you have to read the book.  And enjoy.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Beat
Stephen Jay Schwartz
Forge, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2295-1
Trade Paperback

This, it should be stated, is not an easy book to read.  It is, at the same time, completely compelling and nearly impossible to put down. An anomaly, it would seem.

The protagonist, LA Robbery-Homicide detective Hayden Glass, is many things:   unpredictable, often exhibiting self-destructive behavior [if not actually harboring a death wish], fiendish impulses and extreme violence.  It is sex-filled, as befits a tale whose protag is a sex addict.  He has even named his dark side – his inner addict – Rufus, putting one in mind of Dexter’s Dark Passenger.

Glass’ recent history is daunting:  He has received the Medal of Valor and then, off the record, ordered into a six-month medical leave with psychiatric care, talk therapy, and mandatory attendance at meetings for Sex Addicts Anonymous, a 12-step program similar to other such groups.  His addiction has also caused the end of his marriage.  On medical leave for two months as the book opens, Glass finds himself in San Francisco and obviously out of his jurisdiction.  He is soon stepping on the toes of both the SFPD and the FBI as he searches for a girl by whom he is obsessed, a young prostitute apparently in the clutches of two different factions of the Russian mob.  Police corruption soon becomes evident, and he doesn’t know who he can trust, and at first only succeeds in further endangering the girl.

Detective Glass made his first appearance in Boulevard, which I have not yet read.  Since I assume it may be several months until a follow-up novel appears, I think I’ll need to get my next dose of Mr. Schwartz’ fiction well before that.  It would seem that it’s very easy to fall prey to an addiction.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gone
Mo Hayder
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1964-3
Hardcover

DI Jack Caffery, an 18-year-veteran of the Murder Squad and presently head of Bristol’s Major Crime Investigation Unit, returns at a point six months after the events described in the author’s last novel, Skin. As the book opens, on a cold November night, Caffery is called to the scene of a carjacking in an underground car park, something one would not consider a case for the MCIU until it becomes known that an 11-year-old girl was in the car when it was taken.

Caffery puts a team together:  DC Prody, just coming off four years as a traffic cop; DS Paluzzi [nicknamed “Lollapalooza”], DS Turner, and at some point Phoebe [“Flea”] Marley, now a support-group sergeant who also runs the Underwater Search Unit.  [“She’d got her dumb nickname as a child because people told her she never looked before she leaped.  And because of her irritating, incurable energy.”]  There are secrets in both Caffery’s and Flea’s lives that play in the back of their thoughts, coincidentally both involving siblings; children at risk are also a large part of the plot.  The investigation takes a different turn when Flea tells Caffery there have been two other incidents closely following the same pattern, and they realize this was not just a random act.

The characters are very well-drawn and intriguing, especially Flea, who remembers her father telling her as a child “We don’t give up in this family.  It’s against the Marley code.  Ancient belief system.  Bad things happen when you do – – it’s like flying in the face of nature.”  And that persistent nature is a good part of what makes her such a terrific cop, and fascinating individual.

The reader is kept rapt for more or less the first half of the book just by the mystery of the identity of the hijacker, and what he may have done to the child [shudder].  Then there is a sudden shift in intensity, as the plot takes unexpected and quite startling twists and turns, and from that point on I could not put the book down till its conclusion, breath held a good part of the way there.  [I should add that my vocabulary has been enlarged by the terms “elasticated,” lumpenly,” and “forensicated,” which may just be a matter of Brit-speak.]

Happily, the final few pages hint of a return of Caffery and Flea, and one can only hope it will be soon.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2011.