Book Reviews: Sons of Sparta by Jeffrey Siger and The Likeness by Tana French

Sons of SpartaSons of Sparta
A Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis Mystery
Jeffrey Siger
Poisoned Pen Press, October 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0314-5
Hardcover

Author Jeffrey Siger and Poisoned Pen Press continue their winning collaboration with this sixth entry in the excellent Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis series. Set in turbulent, often corrupt, politically chancy, modern Greece, the novel enticingly exploits a full range of Mediterranean attractions. The history of Greece from Athens to Corinth to Sparta, and beyond is filled with thrilling exploits, good wine, fine food, smuggling, piracy and fierce familial ties. So too, this novel. No mistake, the author is very sympathetic to the passions and cultural attitudes, but he observes with a keen and balanced eye.

Yiannis Kouros is a young special crimes division detective. He’s also a member of an old and still powerful family descendent from ancient Spartan warriors. A family with ties to the full range of past illegal activities. When the head of the family, his uncle, calls, he must appear, worrying that he will be compromised in his loyalty to his boss and mentor, Chief Inspector Kaldis. It is the beginning of a long and complicated case of murder, old wrongs and new chicanery.

Kouros, Kaldis and the other member of the successful police triad, Tassos Stamatos, an aging, exceedingly competent homicide investigator buddy of Kaldis, combine their experience to protect Kouros from family pressure and simultaneously help solve the murder of Kouros’s uncle. The case involves a range of interesting criminals, crimes and members of Kouros’s family. It explores Greek culture in illuminating ways but the author is careful to maintain the focus of this novel on the interesting police procedures and the deductive processes of the cops in a government environment as corrupt and dysfunctional as one might ever encounter.

The plot is complicated, intriguing and well-considered. Occasional excursions into sexual dalliances are appropriately included to add interest and rhythm to the fabric of the novel. Pace almost never lags and the conclusion is satisfying.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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The LikenessThe Likeness
Dublin Murder Squad Series #2
Tana French
Viking, July 2008
ISBN: 978-0-670-01886-4
Hardcover

First she wrote a best-seller, In The Woods. Now comes a second novel following the activities of a mythical Murder Squad in Ireland. The principal is again, Cassie Maddox, a fine detective, but one who seems doomed to tread the perilous paths of psychological involvement at very high levels.

After working murder and as an undercover operative, Cassie has moved on. Physically and still mentally damaged, she needs something with less stress. She finds it in what amounts to a desk job in the Domestic Violence unit. But her past will not let her alone.

When the novel opens, Cassie’s current boyfriend , Sam, a detective still on the murder squad, importunes her to visit a crime scene. A young woman has been found dead in an abandoned cottage in a small town outside Dublin. Cassie goes to the scene where she is mightily shocked to discover that the dead woman appears to be almost her twin. What is even more unsettling is that the dead woman is identified as Alexandra Madison, a name and persona used years ago by Detective Maddox in an undercover operation.

Unsettling as all that is, Cassie’s former boss of undercover operations sees the situation as ideal to help them solve the murder—by hiding the fact of Madison’s death for as long as possible and infiltrating Cassie into the dead woman’s life in order to solve her death. This situation is not without problems, several of which the author has left un-resolved. Moreover, the convoluted plot, including the question of who Alexandra Madison really is and who killed her does not lend itself to simple answers. Like her debut novel, which also leaves important questions in limbo, the narrative is handled in a stately and protracted manner. The novel is a good deal longer than it needs to be, but French’s style and high level of skill with language mitigates many of those problems.

In spite of my reservations, at least for traditional mystery fans who thrive on psychological tension, this is a mesmerizing novel with compelling characters, logical and precise progress, and an outstanding evocative sense of place. A real winner for serious fans of the psychological thriller.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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