Book Reviews: The Weight of Souls by Bryony Pearce, Breeding Ground by Sally Wright, and The Bughouse Affair by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini

The Weight of SoulsThe Weight of Souls
Bryony Pearce
Strange Chemistry, August 2013
ISBN 978-1908844644
Trade Paperback

Taylor Oh, at 15 years old, is very popular…with the dead. A social outcast at school, she has only one friend left but soon, even she will give up on her. The Darkness doesn’t give her much time to leave the mark of the dead on those that deserve vengeance. But what will she do when the school bully leaves his own mark on her?

I really enjoyed reading this book and managed to devour it in one sitting. The storyline was of a familiar set, social outcast is bullied by the popular set while harbouring a family hardship. But that’s not to say that there’s nothing new to enjoy here. This title comes with a twist that will keep you on the edge of your seat as Taylor races against time to track down the people responsible for the death of a local teenager.

The writing is great, full of detail and depth with a rich cast of characters that you can really get into and care about. Complex relationships are teased out and there’s a nice twist added in to give some flavour to the family history. This is a story that I think young adults will enjoy and the ending leaves a possibility that there could be more in the future, but maybe I’m just getting my hopes up. I would certainly recommend The Weight of Souls to younger readers and at the moment, I plan to check out Bryony Pearce’s other title. Two thumbs up!

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, January 2014.

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Breeding GroundBreeding Ground
A Jo Grant Mystery
Sally Wright
Sally Wright, December 2013
ISBN 978-0-9827801-4-5
Trade Paperback

Jo Grant is an architect but she has little time to focus on her career or herself. After nursing a beloved horse through a long illness, she saw her mother through an exhausting bout with cancer. When her brother Tom is killed in a motorcycle accident, it’s almost more than she can bear. She plans to settle her brother’s affairs at the Kentucky brood mare ranch he ran with their uncle Toss before she takes off on a long awaited trip to Europe to view its architectural wonders.

But there are complications. Should she sell the horse that was Tom’s favorite, the one that had meant so much to him? Tom left Jo a tape for her to listen to after his death; it refers to his wartime activities in the OSS, the predecessor to the CIA. But it’s twenty years later—1962—and Jo gets in touch with Alan Munro, who served with her brother. Alan refuses to tell Jo about their war time work with the French Resistance, but then Jack Freeman, another former OSS agent, turns up on the farm, looking for Tom.

There are a lot of plots jostling for space in this book. Will Jo keep an interest in the family business or continue her architecture career?  What did Tom, Alan, and Jack do in the OSS,  and what does it matter twenty years later? There are also parallel plots about two neighboring businesses dealing with horses and a subplot about a groom looking for work.

It’s an insider’s look at the world of thoroughbred horses and the related economy. The author evokes a feeling of a Jane Smiley novel. But some plots are never resolved, and characters are left hanging. There is an epilogue that explains that readers may want to know what happened to the characters. “It won’t get written here,” says Jo. “It’ll take another book, or two. Or maybe even three.”

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, March 2014.

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The Bughouse AffairThe Bughouse Affair
A Carpenter and Quincannon Mystery
Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini
Forge, November 2013
ISBN 978-0-7653-3174-8
Hardcover

Billed as the first in a new series by this talented writing duo, The Bughouse Affair introduces ex-Pinkerton operative Sabina Carpenter and her partner, ex-Secret Service agent John Quincannon. This unlikely pair has set up a private detective agency, and the story has the two embarking on separate investigations.

Sabina is on the hunt for a pickpocket who chooses her victims in populated areas such as amusement parks, markets, and parades.  Quincannon is attempting to trace an elusive housebreaker who targets homes of the wealthy, and who seems to have an uncanny sense of when the houses will be unguarded.

One might think these cases could not possibly be connected but as Sabina and Quincannon pursue their suspects, it soon becomes clear they are when the detectives find themselves working along the same routes. And when Sherlock Holmes arrives on the scene and manages to turn the American detectives on their ear, sparks are certain to fly–and not just the sparks between Sabina and Quincannon who are constantly trying to out-do the other.

The depiction of historical San Francisco is fascinating. One can’t doubt the accuracy of Muller and Pronzini‘s research into the era. I was taken back in time without a single jolt and since the 1890s  is one of my favorite historical periods, I found the setting especially enjoyable. From the clothes the characters wear, to the food they eat, to the societal pastimes, it was as though I was in a time machine.

The characters are well delineated. I, personally, found Sabina to be the stronger character as I thought Quincannon a bit overbearing and stuffy upon occasion. Other readers may differ. All in all, the mystery is good, the characters are interesting, and the setting is great. I’m looking forward to the next book featuring these detectives.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, October 2013.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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