What Jeanne Did On Her Summer Vacation

Jeanne Matthews was born and raised in Georgia, where owning a gun is required by law in certain places and “he needed killing” is a valid legal defense to homicide.  Jeanne’s debut novel, Bones of Contention, published in June, 2010 by Poisoned Pen Press, features a conniving Georgia clan plopped down in the wilds of Northern Australia where death adders, assassin spiders, man-eating crocs, Aboriginal myths, and murder abound.  Jeanne currently resides in Renton, Washington with her husband, Sidney DeLong, who is a law professor, and their West Highland terrier.  Her second novel, Bet Your Bones, is available at bookstores everywhere.

www.jeannematthews.com

The ascent of Preikestolen is not for the faint of heart.  Preikestolen, or Pulpit Rock, as it’s called in the English language guide books, is one of the most iconic images of Norway and one of the most spectacular sights anywhere in the world.  It looks less like a pulpit than the prow of some monstrous ship.  On three sides, sheer cliffs plunge 2,000 feet to the cobalt waters of the fjord below.  There are no fences, no rails, nothing between you and the abyss.  Acrophobes like me crawl to the edge on our bellies to peer off into space.  This is a major photo op.  We want proof of this feat plastered on the front page of the family album.  But the sickly grins we show to the camera don’t convey the mingled feelings of triumph and terror.  We gaze out at the luminous rock walls that enclose the Lysefjord and our hearts fill with awe.  We gaze around at idiots perched on the precipice with their feet dangling over the edge and our blood congeals.

And then there’s the crack.  The one right behind you where the rock joins the mountain.  You tell yourself, I’m standing on solid granite.  This rock will be standing for centuries to come.  And then you peer through that heart-stopping crevice into the depths below and decide, quite suddenly, that it’s time to descend.  You snap a hasty, final shot of the monolith and start down.

Unfortunately, the descent of Preikestolen isn’t for the faint of heart, either.   To say that the trail is rocky assumes that there is an actual trail.  There isn’t.  There are rocks.  Tons of rocks piled atop still larger rocks, and those piled atop boulders the size of Volvos.  The large red T (T as in Trail) painted on the boulders is a cruel joke.  You might find a foothold if you were a mountain goat.  You might make the leap from ledge to ledge if you were a sticky-footed lizard.

I e-mailed a friend describing with great drama and high emotion the many breathtaking perils of Preikestolen.  Her reply:  “But did you get the shot?”

I got it.

Book Review: The Holy Thief by William Ryan

The Holy Thief
William Ryan
Minotaur Books, 2010
ISBN 978-0-312-58645-4
Hardcover (ARC)

Get ready to immerse yourself into Russian history. Go on the trail of a serial killer. Avoid Stalin’s NKVD. Search for an historical icon of Russian heritage. This is the premise of The Holy Thief.  Filled with conspiracy, Communism, and unique characters, this is an excellent excursion to a foreign country and a bleak view of its culture.

1936. Russia. Stalin is in power. Churches are being demolished since religion is banned. The country is getting ready to celebrate its nineteenth anniversary of the Revolution. However, rations are short, queue lines for basics are long, and Captain Korelev of the Militia (Russia’s version of a police force) shares an apartment with a widow and her young child. On the day of his move to the new apartment, he begins an investigation into the torture and murder of a young woman found in a church. Almost immediately afterward, a Colonel from the NKVD (State Security), contacts Korolev and wishes to impart some vague information and to be kept updated on the case. The next day, a high ranking member of the Thieves (an organization of criminals working in Moscow) is found murdered. Then a member of the NKVD itself is found shot in a soon to be demolished church. Korolev finds himself caught up in a twisted plot to steal an historical religious icon. Who wants it? Who has it? Who can Korolev trust?

I’m a little skeptical to read historical mysteries but this one drew me in with a nice perspective of Communist Russia. A very well written police procedural with the added flavor of high government conspiracy, Soviet style,  the cultural views of Moscow life, and a basically good and decent man seeing the evil around him. Korolev is a Believer, a religious man, in a country destroying churches and  eradicating anyone remotely suspected of being against the State. Throw a vicious murder into the mix, and this tale is one sure to interest many murder mystery fans.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, September 2011.

Book Review: The Shattering by Karen Healey

The ShatteringThe Shattering
Karen Healey
Little, Brown and Company, September 2011
ISBN 978-0-316-12572-7
Hardcover

Summerton is a lovely resort town on the west coast of New Zealand, a town that’s perhaps a bit too perfect. While other small towns struggle to remain vibrant and appealing and they watch their residents, especially the younger ones, move away in search of better lives, Summerton just continues to attract tourists in greater numbers and few of its inhabitants ever leave for good.

Seventeen-year-old Keri is struggling to understand why her beloved older brother, Jake, would have committed suicide, never having indicated that anything was wrong. One of the worst things for Keri is that she always had plans for every contingency, no matter how unlikely, and that made her feel safe; Jake’s death, this way, was something she had never even considered. She found him and, although she has blocked out the memory, the pain of not understanding is intense and she takes little comfort from the family gathering for the Maori celebration of his life.

Then, an old childhood friend, Janna, approaches her one day and asks if she would like to know who murdered Jake and Keri immediately senses that this may not be a wild idea. Janna tells her a boy from Auckland, Sione, is on his way to town to show her his research indicating a string of suicides over a period of years, all older brothers living in scattered areas of the country but who had all been in Summerton on New Year’s Eve. Sione has identified a number of other odd patterns in these deaths and the three teens set out to find the killer and exact revenge.  The perfect town of Summerton, though, may not let that happen.

I’m a big fan of young adult dark fantasy and I’m always on the lookout for something a little different. The New Zealand setting of this story was what first attracted me but the first page hooked me thoroughly. I immediately “felt” who Keri was , what drove her, and Janna and Sione took equal billing. That’s partly because of the author’s style in having each chapter be from the perspective of one of the three but there’s more to it than that. All along, I believed these characters and experienced their emotions, their physical pain and their moments of happiness—even in the midst of great sorrow and anger, there will be happiness. I couldn’t help thinking I’d like to know these teens. Put quite simply, Karen Healey has created a mesmerizing tale and is a writer to watch.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2011.

Vintage Murder – Love Amongst the Terrorists

William S. Shepard is a retired diplomat whose diplomatic career included tours as Consul or Political Officer at our Embassies in Singapore, Saigon, Budapest and Athens. He then served as Consul General in Bordeaux. Bill now lives on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The author of the Robbie Cutler diplomatic mystery series (www.diplomaticmysteries.com), he enjoys writing and lecturing, and Maryland crabs fresh from the Chesapeake Bay.

“Write about what you know,” is advice given every writer, and it is good advice. I took it when I wrote the first book in my series of Diplomatic Mysteries, Vintage Murder (http:tinyurl.com/3unnas5). It is set largely in Bordeaux, where I lived for several years, and in Paris. There is therefore an interesting backdrop, but one with which I am personally quite familiar.

Not everything in this storied region is positive, not by a longshot. Although  the Bordeaux vineyards are real, so, unfortunately, are the activities of the Basque ETA, a terrorist organization whose stated purpose is Basque nationhood.

My idea was to combine these elements. What if the ETA were to revive, motivated by the desire to be a real player, with large sums of money at their disposal rather than the small amounts of “taxes” which they extort from local Basque businessmen? All of a sudden a troublesome group would become a major threat to a world famous region. To have any chance of success (specifically, liberating the hundreds of their members in prison) they would need a great deal of money and weapons. And there, in Bordeaux, just a few hours away from the coastline, are world famous vineyards, some bottles of which sell for enormous prices. It would be a tempting blackmail prospect.

My American diplomat, Robbie Cutler, is the Consul at the same mission where I served. But when he is contacted by a wine estate owner who claims that he is being blackmailed, the action takes an official turn for Cutler. Add to that the sign painted on the door of the American Consulate General, “Death to the American Consul,” signed by the ETA!

Cutler  has that rare quality that Napoleon is said to have demanded of his generals – he is lucky! And luck is presented in the person of the beautiful Sylvie Marceau, a features newspaper writer for the local regional newspaper, Sudouest. He is logical, and she is intuitive. She also discovers the first wine estate owner to be murdered by the ETA!

Robbie and Sylvie ramble through the most famous vineyards of Bordeaux, in St. Emilion, Pomerol, and the Médoc, where they attend a reception at storied Château Margaux. Their detection becomes a love story, and on a visit to Bordeaux, Robbie’s sister Evalyn tells her brother that now he is the lucky one – Sylvie is far too good for the likes of him! Their love story is deepened by the adventures that they share.

Since this is the first book of a series, Robbie Cutler and Sylvie Marceau become continuing characters, as do several of their diplomatic colleagues. I’ll leave it to you to discover whether they become engaged in the sequel, Murder On The Danube.

Shepard’s Guide to Mastering French Wines

(http://tinyurl.com/6eldhbn)

My years in Bordeaux also led me to a second career in wine writing, as the Wine Editor of the travel group, French Wine Explorers. My latest column, published last month, concerns the wonderful 2009 Beaujolais vintage. (http://tinyurl.com/3exy47g).

My Kindle book on French wines, revised and enlarged for this 2011 edition, introduces you to the wines and wine regions of France. With dozens of hyperlinks, the reader can click back and forth between the book and the actual websites of the great regions of Champagne, Bordeaux, and Burgundy. The 2009 and 2010 vintages are assessed, and there are many tips on quality wines that are reasonable priced. For the cost of a single glass of wine, here is your well-researched guide to the pleasures of French wines. Read this, and you’ll wonder why you ever relied on a point score rather than your own good taste!

Book Review: In Dublin's Fair City by Rhys Bowen

In Dublin’s Fair City
Rhys Bowen
St. Martin’s Press, 2007
ISBN 13: 978-0-312-32819-1
Hardcover
Also available as a mass market paperback
ISBN 978-0-312-99702-1

A lady P.I. in 1903 New York is not something that you read about everyday.  Molly Murphy has left Ireland and made a life for herself in New York.  She has friends and a man in her life.  But business is slow right now and when she is offered a job involving a trip to Ireland to locate the sister of a very rich New York citizen she jumps at the chance.

The minute she gets on the ship to Ireland she begins to experience things she never dreamed would happen.  First a famous actress talks her into switching places with her on the ship.  By the time the ship reaches Ireland the actress’ maid is murdered and Molly undergoes intensive questioning and feels herself under suspicion for the murder.

Once on shore she finds herself even deeper in the mystery that involves the actress that she impersonated, the murder victim and even Molly’s own family.

To go further into the story would reveal facts that are better for the readers to discover on their own.  I totally enjoyed the descriptions of the ship Molly sailed on and the conditions of life in Ireland during that time period.

This is my first Molly Murphy adventure and won’t be my last.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, February 2007.

Book Review: In Dublin’s Fair City by Rhys Bowen

In Dublin’s Fair City
Rhys Bowen
St. Martin’s Press, 2007
ISBN 13: 978-0-312-32819-1
Hardcover
Also available as a mass market paperback
ISBN 978-0-312-99702-1

A lady P.I. in 1903 New York is not something that you read about everyday.  Molly Murphy has left Ireland and made a life for herself in New York.  She has friends and a man in her life.  But business is slow right now and when she is offered a job involving a trip to Ireland to locate the sister of a very rich New York citizen she jumps at the chance.

The minute she gets on the ship to Ireland she begins to experience things she never dreamed would happen.  First a famous actress talks her into switching places with her on the ship.  By the time the ship reaches Ireland the actress’ maid is murdered and Molly undergoes intensive questioning and feels herself under suspicion for the murder.

Once on shore she finds herself even deeper in the mystery that involves the actress that she impersonated, the murder victim and even Molly’s own family.

To go further into the story would reveal facts that are better for the readers to discover on their own.  I totally enjoyed the descriptions of the ship Molly sailed on and the conditions of life in Ireland during that time period.

This is my first Molly Murphy adventure and won’t be my last.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, February 2007.

Book Reviews: Box 21 by Anders Roslund & Borge Hellstrom, Vienna Twilight by Frank Tallis and Death Toll by Jim Kelly

Box 21
Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom
Picador, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-65534-1
Trade Paperback

This is not an easy novel to read, but it is well worth it because it is quite different from the usual crime-cum-thriller novels from Scandinavia.  It really is a psychological study of the conflicts facing detectives in their moral and ethical judgments.  It is the story of how they not only solve cases, but deal with personal relationships and crime.

There are two plots running through the book, each posing a separate question for the main protagonist, Detective Superintendent Ewert Grens, while only one of them presents itself to his sidekick, Sven Sundkvist.  In the end, they both have to face up to reality.

The crimes are gruesome enough, one involving young Baltic women forced into prostitution and enduring humiliating circumstances instead of the promised ‘good jobs’ in Sweden.  The other deals with a sadistic enforcer for a drug lord who breaks bones at stated prices, so much for a finger or a knee, a higher price for murder.  In short, in riveting alternating chapters, the stories come together and the two detectives have to resolve the questions facing them as they relate to the crimes involved.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2011.

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Vienna Twilight
Frank Tallis
Random House, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8129-8100-1
Trade Paperback

Human obsession with sex and death dominate this latest in the Max Liebermann Mystery series.  And of course, the good doctor’s psychoanalytic abilities, with only a cursory assist from Sigmund Freud, are the key to unraveling a series of murders of young women, with detective inspector Oskar Reinhardt, as usual, playing a supporting role, when he is not busy consuming Viennese pastries and Turkish coffee that is.

There are three unrelated mysteries which the pair have to solve: one in which women are murdered while having consensual sex; another of a patient of Liebermann who suffers from what is termed a Sophocles Syndrome; and the third, an unfortunate woman struggling to hide her past.

In many ways this novel, the fifth in the series, is not up to the level of its predecessors in terms of history, and the turn-of-the-century atmosphere of the Austrian capital.  Nevertheless, it makes up for this lack with an abundance of psychoanalytic analysis, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2011.

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Death Toll
Jim Kelly
Minotaur Books, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-57352-2
Hardcover

A protagonist like DI Peter Shaw gives the author license to throw more curve balls at the reader than a major league pitcher.  Shaw, a super-cerebral, over-intuitive detective who develops more and more theories as a case develops and he encounters more facts, certainly proves the point in this novel, which has two plot lines, both based in the distant past.

As a result of severe river flooding, graves along the bank in a cemetery are being exposed.  When one is opened, a skeleton is found atop the casket which contains the remains of the landlady of a local pub.  This sets off an investigation leading Shaw to discover a number of family secrets, with dire consequences to all concerned.  The inquiries move back and forth, uncovering events from a decade ago.

Meanwhile, Shaw, and his partner, DS Valentine, continue to try to prove one Bob Mosse a murderer.  It was Shaw’s father who arrested Mosse years before, only to see the charges thrown out of court because the judge declared a crucial peace of evidence had been contaminated by mishandling.  Consequently Shaw pere took early retirement under a cloud, and his partner, Valentine, was demoted and sent into limbo.

The story moves forward on both plot lines, more or less simultaneously, with Shaw, Valentine and the rest of the team uncovering a clue here, a fact there, until finally it all comes logically together, even if the conclusion requires a bit of manipulation by the author.  Well done, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2011.