Book Reviews: A Legacy of Spies by John le Carré and The Trespasser by Tana French

A Legacy of Spies
John le Carré
Viking, September 2017
ISBN: 978-0-7352-2511-4
Hardcover

The Cold War may have ended many years ago in real life, but not for John le Carré, who has now written a fascinating book derived from two of his earlier George Smiley novels, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  Smiley merely plays a background role in Legacy.  Instead, Peter Guillam, his disciple, who retired from the Circus (the British Secret Service) to the family farmstead in southern France, plays a central part in the story.

Peter receives a letter summoning him to London where he is instructed to review files and interrogated about an operation during the Cold War in which an operative and a source were killed.  It would appear that a potential parliamentary inquiry or even a civil action blaming Peter and others for the deaths and seeking monetary damages, brought by the offspring of the two unfortunate victims, is possible.

As Peter reviews the material, le Carré recreates the times and travails of the period, as we relive through the actions of the characters conditions in East Berlin and the spy craft during the Cold War.  It is history recreated with all the tensions of the period, excellently written with humor and panache.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2017.

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The Trespasser
Dublin Murder Squad #6
Tana French
Penguin, August 2017
ISBN: 978-0-1431-1038-5
Trade Paperback

Antoinette Conway and her partner, Stephen Moran (who she brought on board in the Dublin Murder Squad after working with him in a previous novel) are the newbies in the elite Irish police group, and as such, only receive humdrum domestic dispute assignments.  Until one day the gaffer hands them what turns out to be a murder case of a pretty young woman.  The case turns out to be anything but a simple lovers quarrel.

Antoinette, the only female on the squad, takes a lot of guff from other members (who want her anywhere else), and her resentment shows throughout the book.  While she enjoys her work, she contemplates leaving for an offer in the private sector.  Meanwhile, she has a murder to solve as her first lead detective case and goes about it diligently if somewhat misdirected by an experienced detective assigned to work with the partners for reasons not revealed until the end.

One criticism I made in the previous novel by Tana French was that it was tedious and slow reading.  The same is true of The Trespasser.  One has to plod through a couple of hundred pages of continual repetition before it all begins to make sense.  And then, and only then, does the reading become enjoyable and worthwhile and the plot begin to come together.  The novel would have been rated at a higher level had it not been for this criticism.  Certainly, Ms French writes well and creates clever plots.  One could wish she would now turn her attention to some judicious editing.  That said, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2017.

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Book Review: Murder in Little Shendon by A.H. Richardson

Murder in Little Shendon
A Haxlitt-Brandon Mystery #1
A.H. Richardson
CreateSpace, August 2015
ISBN 978-1515283973
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Picture, if you will, a picturesque village called Little Shendon, suddenly caught up in dealing with a murder of one of its citizens — not a particularly well-liked one at that. Which makes it all the more intriguing because the list of suspects becomes very long. This tantalizing tale unfolds with twists and turns to find out whodunit to Mr. Bartholomew Fynche, the murdered shopkeeper.

Fear grips the community as the investigation slowly progresses. Everyone is interviewed; everyone is suspect! From his housekeeper to Lady Armstrong and her household staff. Or could it be the shy librarian new in town? Or the defiant retired army major and his ladyfriend, the post mistress? Or perhaps the weird sisters who live on the edge of town? Then there is the couple who own the local inn and pub, along with the two Americans who are staying there? Even the vicar and his wife fall under the gloom of suspicion.

Uncertainty, wariness, and terror reign as neighbors watch neighbors to discover the evil that permeates their upturned lives. No one feels safe in this charming little village. Who is the murderer? And why was this strange uncivil man dispatched in such a seemingly civil community?

A murder mystery that will keep you reading until you learn the details, uncovered by Police Inspector Stanley Burgess and his two amateur detectives, Sir Victor Hazlitt and Beresford Brandon. The three sift methodically through the Alibis and life stories of the suspects until they uncover…

You are challenged to discover the culprit before the last few pages. And no fair looking ahead — it’s the journey that proves the most enticing.

When I was first offered the opportunity to read and, perhaps, review Murder in Little Shendon, I had never heard of the book, although it came out two years ago, or of the author but I’m drawn to English village mysteries so I thought I’d give it a go and I’m glad I did.

The premise of a village police inspector tackling a murder case is, of course, not new but Ms. Richardson added in two elements that aren’t so common. The murdered man has a connection from the past to MI5, which is certainly not typical of the usual village murder victim, and that leads Inspector Burgess to enlist the aid of Sir Victor Hazlitt and his sidekick (his Watson, if you will), stage actor Beresford Brandon. Sir Victor was active in MI5 and had known the victim, thus the request from Stanley Burgess, and he invites Berry to go along because of his side interest in criminology. The next morning, off they go for a 10-day sojourn in Little Shendon and an adventurous patch of sleuthing with more than one murder and a multitude of suspects and possible motives.

There were a few noticeable construction flaws in this book and the pace is leisurely, almost too much so at times but, on the whole, I spent a very pleasant few hours with this trio trying to get to the bottom of this crime and the village itself was a step back in time. Sir Victor and Berry return in 2016’s Act One, Scene One…Murder and I’m going to make time to check it out.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

Book Review: Fall From Grace by Tim Weaver

Fall From Grace
A David Raker Mystery #5
Tim Weaver
Penguin Books, July 2017
ISBN 978-0-399-56257-0
Trade Paperback

David Raker, finder of missing persons, is asked to locate Leonard Franks, a retired 35-year veteran who headed the Met’s murder squad, and had disappeared seven months before without a trace in a variation of the locked room mystery.  His investigation becomes more complicated than just finding out what happened after Franks stepped out from his living room to gather a few logs from the woodshed.  When he didn’t return, his wife went out to look for him and couldn’t find a trace: no tracks in the snow, no car visible for miles in any direction.

Raker’s investigation takes him from the bucolic Dorset countryside to the depths of London and into an abandoned Bethlehem, a mental institution, a cast of characters too numerous to contemplate and copious family and police secrets.  Along the way, violence erupts and Raker and his daughter are in danger.

The author has chosen to develop a plot far beyond a simple missing person’s case, unraveling a series of subplots ending in a denouement far from the original start of the story.  Whether this track is a good idea or not is up to a reader’s taste.  This reader reacted in the negative, believing a story should be simple rather than overly complex.  But the novel is well-written and –plotted, and for those who can enjoy very multifaceted tales, it can be and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2017.

Book Review: An Imperfect Past by Eve Seymour

An Imperfect Past
A Kim Slade Novel #2
Eve Seymour
Midnight Ink, March 2017
ISBN: 978-0-7387-4867-2
Trade Paperback

Kim Slate is a psychologist/psycho-therapist in Cheltenham. She has apparently had some serious troubles in the past, losing her lover to violent death and being under suspicion. The incident has left Kim with a general suspicion of authority and law enforcement specifically. This complicates an already fraught situation.

One of her former patients, a young woman named Mimi, beset by an invidious eating disorder and a mother who also needs some family therapy, returns at fourteen to Ellerslie Lodge, the clinic serving anorexia-afflicted young women. Mimi, dying, tasks Kim with finding her long-lost brother. Mimi’s mother, a hard-driving successful business woman, entangled with a lover twenty years her junior, is in deep denial about her son. When the lover is discovered dead of a knife wound and expertly eviscerated, police naturally question Kim and look closely at a champion chef with whom Kim Slate has had a casual relationship.

There are even more complications as Kim sets out to avoid the police inquiry and attempt to track down Mimi’s long-lost brother. The novel is driven by people with night terrors brought flailing into the harsh light of day. Kim struggles to retain her sanity, manage clients in the clinic and complete her efforts to locate Mimi’s brother.

Several surprising events occur along the way to keep readers glued to the pages of this dark and well-written novel. In some ways, it is depressing to realize there are a great number of similarly afflicted individuals roaming about our landscape and interfering with our attempts to manage our own daily lives. This thoughtful, complicated story does not foster joy and laughter but it does explore a number of troubling aspects of our complicated lives.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

A Passel of Teeny Reviews Part 1

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two.

Don’t Get Mad, Get Even
Colin Goodwin
2QT Limited, July 2015
ISBN 978-1-910077-60-3
Trade Paperback

This book had me chuckling quite a bit with its premise—blackmailing an English village’s cricket club to either win  a trophy or lose its playing ground. Along with this audacious crime, we have village ladies who truly appreciate the hired ringer’s skills and a shady real estate development plan. It’s all great fun even with sabotage and perhaps a little murder.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Cat in an Alphabet Endgame
The Midnight Louie Mysteries #28
Carole Nelson Douglas
Wishlist Publishing, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-943175-05-5
Trade Paperback

I confess, I put off reading this as long as I possibly could, so long I’m really embarrassed but I just did NOT want to see the end of this series I love so much. I didn’t want to know who Temple would marry, didn’t want all the little loose ends tied up in neat bows. Midnight Louie is the alpha and omega of feline sleuths and I adore his hardboiled, attitudinous self and, even knowing he was going to continue in different adventures sometime in the future, letting go was so very hard. But…I eventually had to give in and, of course, I enjoyed this book as much as all the others. Temple is distracted by thoughts of saying yes to one guy or the other, the mob has reared its ugly head, there are hints of terrorism and Louie and his Cat Pack are on the case(s). When it’s all said and done, Louie leaves us—and multitudes of Las Vegas felines—with a rousing speech and an offer of appetizers. Ah, Louie, Temple and the rest, I’m going to miss you (until you show up again).

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Memory
Sharon Ervin
The Wild Rose Press, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-5092-1290-3
Trade Paperback

Mistaken identity takes on a whole new meaning when a woman is killed and everyone thinks it’s Memory Smith. She hasn’t been run over but somebody certainly has thrown a punch at her and Assistant DA Mac McCann wants to know what’s going on with his former classmate. Did someone really mean to kill her? Memory is an odd woman but Mac is drawn to her and the mystery surrounding her supposed death. As you might expect in romantic suspense, an emotional attachment between the two of them soon takes on a life of its own but Memory may not survive long enough to see what might develop with Mac.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Crepe Factor
A Scrapbooking Mystery #14
Laura Childs with Terrie Farley Moran
Berkley Prime Crime, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-425-26670-0
Hardcover

Ms. Childs and Ms. Moran continue their collaboration in a charming mystery featuring the death by fork of a food critic (stick a fork in me, I’m done, anyone?) practically right in front of Carmela and Ava, sleuthing duo extraordinaire. Carmela’s previous relationship with the #1 suspect makes sticking her nose in a little dicey and her current boyfriend, police detective Edgar Babcock really wants her to stay out of his investigation but she and Ava can’t resist. A nifty whodunnit and characters that feel like old friends, not to mention a few recipes and scrapbooking tips round out this entertaining entry in the series. I always enjoy these two, especially the slightly loony Ava, and for a few hours while I’m reading one of these books, I can’t help wishing I had the patience and dedication to get into scrapbooking…but the urge passes until the next book 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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The Locket
On Dark Shores #0
J.A. Clement
Weasel Green Press, December 2016
Ebook

Every child gets excited and exceedingly nosy when Yuletide approaches and the seven-year-old Nereia is no exception. Her father has brought her a special surprise, her Godmother, stopping off for a visit before returning to her diplomatic duties in the midst of war and a beautiful silver locket marks Nereia’s first time taking part in the Yule ceremony. This is a sweet story, very short, and a prequel to Ms. Clement‘s On Dark Shores fantasy series. I think I would have gotten more out of it if I knew anything about the series and I don’t understand the description’s reference to “there is mystery in the air…” but I spent a pleasant few minutes with this small family.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

Book Reviews: Run by Kody Keplinger and Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton

Run
Kody Keplinger
Scholastic Press, July 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-83113-0
Hardcover

To say that Agnes and Bo are polar opposites would be grossly overstating their similarities….at least at first glance.  It is difficult to imagine what the serene, docile blind girl would discuss with the most promiscuous wild-child in the small southern town.  It is initially inconceivable that the two would form a bond built on trust and whole-hearted acceptance.  Run isn’t a SnapChat view of two teenagers’ lives.  Ms. Keplinger uses a wide lens to clearly capture the vast and complicated contributing factors that affect not only how other people see the girls; but also their own perceptions of themselves.

That is not to say, however, that this is a dark and heavy tome.  Contrarily, I found this to be immediately irresistible and I ended up reading the book in one day.   It is so easy to become immersed, then invested in a story that is told from two points of view.  Ms. Keplinger spins the tale in that fashion, with a fantastic little tense twist.  True to her very core, Bo’s side of the story is happening right now, present tense, in your face—exactly the way she lives her life.  Agnes takes us back—remembering, yes….but also, considering and contemplating.

While I hesitate to use comparisons in reviews, I genuinely feel that I would be remiss if I did not say: this story, to me, feels important in an Eleanor and Park kind of way.  Although it is undeniably Bo and Agnes’ story; their parents do play a key role.  Just like the teens; adults can be guilty of making and sticking to snap judgments.  Also alongside adolescents; adults have plenty of room to grow.  I’ve no doubt Run will have mass appeal in the YA world and I’m pretty confident that there are plenty of Not-So-Young Adults that will dig it, too.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2016.

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Death in the Tunnel
A British Library Crime Classic
Miles Burton
Poisoned Pen Press, May 2016
ISBN 978-1-4642-0581-1
Trade Paperback

First of all, a short synopsis: Sir Wilfred Saxonby dies as he takes the five o’clock train home. He’s in a locked compartment, shot through the heart by one bullet, the pistol that fired it under his own seat. His death seems straightforward enough, the only odd thing being the fact the train was traveling through a long tunnel at the time. A very noisy, very dark tunnel. And there were the mysterious lights the engineer and fireman saw on the tracks, changing from red, which slowed the train, to green again, when the train sped up.

Was Sir Wilfred’s death suicide, or was it murder?

That is the question posed to Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard. Terribly puzzled himself, Arnold calls in Desmond Merrion, an amateur expert on criminology. Together they set out to discover the truth in this convoluted plot.

See. No spoilers.

Death in the Tunnel was first published in 1936, the author contemporaneous with Agatha Christie. The plot plods, in my most humble opinion, although the premise is classically intriguing. The characters never really come alive, composed, for the most part, of talking heads. I never really see them. The action, what there is of it, seems constrained. Nobody, even the dead man’s children, seems to care all that much.

Writing styles come and go. Perhaps the British version of that day was more stilted, although Christie, Sayers, Creasey, among others, always struck me a writers of good stories. American author Mabel Seeley, from the same era, brought the reader into her characters’ world, always with a sense of danger involved.

As a puzzle concept, Death in the Tunnel, delivers. As a rousing good story, I can only say, “Not for me.”

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: Vacation by JC Miller

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Title: Vacation
Author: JC Miller
Narrator: Curt Simmons
Publisher: JC Miller Writer
Publication Date: July 14, 2017

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Purchase Links:

Audible // iBook // Amazon

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Vacation
JC Miller
Narrated by Curt Simmons
JC Miller Writer, July 2017
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the author—

Dr. William Koval, a pragmatist with little faith in humanity, prefers to dwell in the eerily comforting microscopic realm, where he is master of his domain. But his worldview is upended when he decides to go on the English walking tour his wife had been planning before her murder three years earlier. Only when William confronts his past, including his troubled marriage, will he find a way to rejoin the living, to move forward, and perhaps love again. The real journey, he discovers, lies within.

In many ways, William is a stereotypical research physician but those close to him know he isn’t coping well with the death of his wife; rather than moving on with his life, he’s withdrawn and finds comfort in solitude. He would be content, if not happy, to be left alone but, fortunately for him, there are a few people who care enough about his wellbeing to force him to take a step forward.

A walking tour through the English countryside doesn’t seem too onerous at first, even though William isn’t used to this sort of thing or with spending time with a group of strangers, some of whom are intent on being chummy. Their Irish tour guide is a funny sort of guy who’s suspiciously inept at this and a couple of his fellow walkers are a bit irritating. Still, it’s only for a few days and William has to admit he’s feeling a kind of relaxation he didn’t expect. When a woman named Annie begins to touch his heart, he’s unprepared and, at first, resistant and when he does let himself feel again, he and Annie come up against an unbearable barrier.

Vacation is what I call a love story rather than a romance because there’s more depth to the feelings between these two and it seemed quite organic, if you will. The twist in the story bothered me some, first because I thought it was way too predictable but also because it just seems so unnecessary and I think tension could have been created in a less sensational manner. Despite that, I enjoyed this story a great deal.

A lot of my enjoyment came from the wonderful narration by Curt Simmons. I don’t think I’ve heard him before but his voice is one of the best I’ve come across with his smooth, even tones that tell the story with distinct vocalizations and a comfortable quality that makes me want to keep listening. Ms. Miller wrote a really good story; Mr. Simmons brought William and all the other characters to life.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

About the Author

JC (Jeanne) Miller is a freelance essayist, the author of five novels, including  the best-seller, Vacation. An avid reader, aspiring traveler and table tennis enthusiast, JC resides in Northern California.

  • Writer
  • Table tennis enthusiast
  • Lover of silly animal videos

Website // Facebook // Twitter

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About the Narrator

Curt lives in Seattle and produces and narrates audiobooks in his home studio. He began his performing career in college as a stage actor and radio personality. After college, in addition to acting, Curt also did voiceovers for commercials, which he also wrote, directed, and edited for broadcast TV. Following the birth of his daughter in 1984, he left the performing arts to pursue a more “stable” profession managing projects. Then, in 2014 he returned to the professional stage for the first time in over 30 years as Walter Flood in Becky’s New Car by Stephen Dietz. He has also appeared recently as Lyman in Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz and Ralph in The Last Romance by Joseph DiPietro. Vacation is Curt’s eighth audiobook.

Website // Facebook // Twitter // Goodreads // SoundCloud

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Play an excerpt here.

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Follow the tour:

Aug. 13th:
Lomeraniel (Spotlight + Audio Excerpt, Giveaway)
CGB Blog Tours (Spotlight + Audio Excerpt)

Aug. 14th:
Buried Under Books (Review)
Dab of Darkness (Review, Giveaway)

Aug. 15th:
Jazzy Book Reviews (Spotlight + Audio Excerpt, Author Interview, Giveaway)

Aug. 16th:
Between the Coverz (Review, Spotlight + Audio Excerpt)
WTF Are You Reading? (Review, Spotlight + Audio Excerpt, Giveaway)
The Literary Apothecary (Review)

Aug. 17th:
The Bookworm Lodge (Spotlight + Audio Excerpt)

Aug. 18th:
The Book Addict’s Reviews (Review, Spotlight + Audio Excerpt, Music Playlist)
Bean’s Bookshelf and Coffee Break (Review)

Aug. 19th:
Lynn’s Romance Enthusiasm (Review, Spotlight + Audio Excerpt)

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GIVEAWAY

The giveaway is for 2 free audiobooks, winner’s choice.
Open internationally! Runs August 13th – 20th.

Enter here.

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