Book Review: Blood Ties by Nicholas Guild

Blood TiesBlood Ties
Nicholas Guild
Forge, May 2015
ISBN  978-0-7653-7845-3
Hardcover

A manhunt for a monster, a police procedural and a love story all wrapped up in a thriller sums up what this novel is all about.  Its characters are fascinating, beginning with a serial killer who probably has murdered hundreds of women by torturing them to death in his decades-long career.  More important is his rationale for doing so:  putting them out of their misery (just life on this old planet, a living hell in his view).  The murders were committed all over the country, but the most recent took place in the San Francisco area, where homicide detective Ellen Ridley and her partner, Sam Tyler, become the lead investigators on three related murders (and possibly five all together).

Ridley at first suspects Stephen Tregear, a highly intelligent, charming computer genius and code breaker for the Navy, as a suspect, but soon eliminates him, learning instead that it is his father who is the ogre.  The two form a relationship and with his help the story moves on until father and son confront each other.  It is a study really of psychological insights into each character and what motivations led them to act as they have.

Among the themes that contribute to these manifestations are growing up in an abusive home and why one family member turns out to be a brutal serial killer, while another becomes a highly educated, intelligent person with admirable values who risks his life to save those of others.  The story is well-presented, and moves along at a steady pace, and the reader becomes totally absorbed in a beguiling plot.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2016.

Book Reviews: As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley, Huntress Moon by Alexandra Sokoloff, and The Sound and the Furry by Spencer Quinn

As Chimney Sweepers Come to DustAs Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust
A Flavia de Luce Novel #7
Alan Bradley
Delacorte Press, January 2015
ISBN 978-0-345-53993-9
Hardcover
Random House Audio, January 2015
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book
Read by Jayne Entwistle

From the publisher—

Banished! is how twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce laments her predicament, when her father and Aunt Felicity ship her off to Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy, the boarding school that her mother, Harriet, once attended across the sea in Canada. The sun has not yet risen on Flavia’s first day in captivity when a gift lands at her feet. Flavia being Flavia, a budding chemist and sleuth, that gift is a charred and mummified body, which tumbles out of a bedroom chimney. Now, while attending classes, making friends (and enemies), and assessing the school’s stern headmistress and faculty (one of whom is an acquitted murderess), Flavia is on the hunt for the victim’s identity and time of death, as well as suspects, motives, and means. Rumors swirl that Miss Bodycote’s is haunted, and that several girls have disappeared without a trace. When it comes to solving multiple mysteries, Flavia is up to the task—but her true destiny has yet to be revealed.

There are just a handful of series that I never miss these days and this is one of them, largely because I so adore the protagonist but also because I can always depend on the author to offer a truly good book. In the case of As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, I was slightly less enthused but certainly not enough to say I didn’t like it.

My discontent stems from the setting of this particular entry. Much of Flavia’s charm comes from her interactions with her family, her father’s “man”, their home, Buckshaw, and their village, Bishop’s Lacey. This time, though, Flavia has been sent to Canada to attend her mother’s boarding school and, to me, it just seemed awkward to have her suddenly isolated from all she has known in her short life. Having said that, Mr. Bradley soon develops some pretty good reasons for Flavia to be in this particular school and, of course, she becomes involved in a death investigation in her quite inimitable way.

As much as I missed those familiar characters, there are certainly some at Miss Bodycote’s that appealed to me in various ways, especially Collingwood, and it doesn’t hurt that a body appears on the scene quite fortuitously, a most welcome distraction for the homesick Flavia.

No matter her circumstances, Flavia cannot be repressed and my only true concern is that I have to wait till September for her next adventure, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d.

Note: I both read the book and listened to the audio edition and, as always, Jayne Entwistle brings Flavia to life and continues to wow me as a wonderful narrator and voice of this charming young girl.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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Huntress MoonHuntress Moon
The Huntress/FBI Thrillers #1
Alexandra Sokoloff
Read by R.C. Bray
Alexandra Sokoloff, May 2014
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the author—

FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is closing in on a bust of a major criminal organization in San Francisco when he witnesses an undercover member of his team killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can’t believe is coincidental. His suspicions put him on the trail of a mysterious young woman who appears to have been present at each scene of a years-long string of accidents and murders, and who may well be that most rare of killers: a female serial.

Roarke’s hunt for her takes him across three states… while in a small coastal town, a young father and his five-year-old son, both wounded from a recent divorce, encounter a lost and compelling young woman on the beach and strike up an unlikely friendship without realizing how deadly she may be.

As Roarke uncovers the shocking truth of her background, he realizes she is on a mission of her own, and he must race to capture her before more blood is shed.

It would be easy to say that if you’ve read one FBI crime novel, you’ve read them all but authors manage to keep finding ways to make their own stories just a little bit different, enough to catch a reader’s attention. In Huntress Moon, I was drawn in by the notion of a female serial killer. In real life, such a person is rare and that’s what makes the idea so interesting, at least for me.

Special Agent Roarke is an appealing protagonist in a number of ways, not least of which are his intelligence and his dogged determination to track down this elusive young woman. What’s surprising is how fascinating she is, especially since we don’t even know her name. Clearly, she has an agenda and she hunts her victims as much as Roarke hunts her; with each new killing, she becomes more real, as it were, perhaps just a little more understandable. It becomes difficult to see her as entirely evil when she meets a young father and his son and, yet, she is a bloodthirsty killer. How she came to be the way she is and Roarke’s pursuit of her are what make this such a fine story.

R.C. Bray is a new narrator to me and, at first, I wasn’t completely on board with him largely because his voices seemed not very distinctive. As the novel wore on, his performance became more satisfying and he has won awards so it was my problem, not his. He is the narrator of the second and third books in the trilogy and I’m looking forward to spending time with him again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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The Sound and the Furry AudioThe Sound and the Furry
A Chet and Bernie Mystery #6
Spencer Quinn
Read by Jim Frangione
Recorded Books, September 2013
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the publisher—

When Chet and Bernie happen upon a prison work crew that includes Frenchie Boutette, an old criminal pal they sent up the river, getting a new case is the last thing they expect. But Frenchie, who comes from an old Louisiana family full of black sheep, needs help finding his one law-abiding relative, his brother Ralph, a reclusive inventor who has gone missing with his houseboat. Though he’s tempted to take another job (with a big payday) in Alaska, Bernie decides to set course for the bayous of Louisiana, a trip that will introduce Chet to a world of sights, smells, and tastes that are like nothing he’s ever encountered. Out in bayou country, Chet and Bernie meet the no-good Boutette family and their ancient enemies, the maybe-even-worse Robideaus, and at first it seems as if Ralph’s disappearance is connected to a dispute over a load of stolen shrimp. But when Chet uncovers a buried clue, the investigation heads in a dangerous new direction involving the oil business and an impending environmental catastrophe. The more Chet and Bernie discover about Ralph, the more treacherous the job becomes, and soon they’re fighting not only Big Oil, but also shadowy black ops figures, a violent biker gang from back home, and Iko- a legendary bayou gator with a seemingly insatiable appetite. Meanwhile, deep under the Gulf, the pressure just keeps building.

Ah, it’s always so good to be back in the world of Chet and Bernie, two of my all-time favorite detectives, and following them to the bayous of Louisiana was a special treat. If ever a pair were out of their element, this is it and, to make matters worse, they fall right into the middle of a longstanding feud between two less-than-nice families.

What seems at first to be a rather simple case of thievery soon turns out to be much deeper and the missing Ralph, perhaps the only non-criminal in this unruly and menacing bunch, is still missing. Chet and Bernie learn that there’s much more than stolen shrimp going on and these two may be dealing with their most sinister case yet.

As narrator, Chet is a delight as he always is and there were many moments when I found myself grinning out loud, so to speak. I can’t help it, Chet is a terrific storyteller and his ruminations on life are hilarious 😉

There’s definitely a difference between this book and the earlier titles in the series and I think it has to do with atmosphere. Having lived in Louisiana for several years long ago, I can attest to a certain darkness, for lack of a better word, that comes from the insularity of the bayous, a kind of hostility and distrust towards the rest of the world that can lead to an uneasiness not found elsewhere. In contrast, Chet and Bernie’s usual terrain is open, perhaps deceptively so, and one can’t help feeling a little less threatened so these two are definitely in a different world when they go to the bayous.

Speaking of narrators, I always enjoy Jim Frangione as the voice of Chet and The Sound and the Furry is no exception. A good reader can make all the difference and Mr. Frangione really does the job well. He and Spencer Quinn (and the delightful Chet) are a team that can’t be beat.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

Book Reviews: Treasure Hunt by Andrea Camilleri and Breaking Point by C. J. Box

Treasure HuntTreasure Hunt
An Inspector Montalbano Mystery #16
Andrea Camilleri
Translated by Stephen Sartarelli
Viking, October 2013
ISBN: 978-0-143-12262-3
Trade Paperback

This is the 16th Sicilian mystery featuring Inspector Salvo Montalbano. In the early going in the novel, the Inspector finds himself bored, with nary a crime worthy of his talents, much less a murder; the author calls him a “police inspector with a brilliant past, no matter dull his present.” But it becomes somewhat less boring as the book opens – – an elderly brother and sister, religious fanatics both, open fire on the main square of the village, determined to punish the people of Vigata for their sins. When Montalbano is caught on camera scaling the building, gun in hand, to put an end to the scene, he is hailed as a hero. His own reaction, after searching the apartment, is one of shock, when he discovers rooms filled with crucifixes and shrines and an apparently aged inflatable sex doll. To say that this opening scene has unexpected repercussions later in the novel is an understatement.

Montalbano, now fifty-seven, is a man who is always aware of when he ate his last meal and savors each one; who occasionally has his inner selves arguing, like an angel and a devil perched on each shoulder, and takes to cursing the saints when frustrated. And is an absolutely terrific protagonist. He has two more or less regular women in his life, Ingrid, a former race-car mechanic, described as his “Swedish friend, confidante, and sometimes accomplice,” and Livia, with whom he has a long-distance romance: She lives in Genoa.

Boredom soon is replaced with the worst kind of crime to be solved: The apparent kidnapping of a beautiful 18-year-old girl, with no clues as to the identity of the kidnapper. Montalbano finds himself up against “a criminal mind the likes of which he had never encountered before.”

Not long after the opening scenes, he becomes the recipient of envelopes marked to his personal attention, each containing crudely constructed poems, riddles setting him on the eponymous hunt, soon devolving into a duel between two very sharp minds. Until with the third and fourth missives the seemingly innocuous game becomes suddenly threatening or, as the Inspector puts it, takes a “curious turn.”

The plot is fascinating, the tale told, despite the darkness of the plot, with great good humor and fascinating characters, e.g., the Inspector’s switchboard operator, Catarella, from whose mouth come words like “nickpick” (picnic), and “Beckin’ yer partin” (for ‘begging your pardon,” but you figured that out already). This was a very entertaining novel, and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2014.

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Breaking PointBreaking Point
A Joe Pickett Novel #13
C.J. Box
Berkley, March 2014
ISBN: 978-0-425-26460-7
Mass Market Paperback

One thing you can always count on in a Joe Pickett novel: The environment and topography of Wyoming plays a vital part in the plot. This book is no exception. Breaking Point starts with an actual true story as its foundation: the Sackett Case, by which the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 9-0 ruling, declared that the EPA had overstepped in its dealings with the Idaho family.

Similarly, the regional director of the EPA in Denver, began an action against Butch and Pam Roberson, acquaintances of Joe and Marybeth Pickett, setting off a maelstrom in its wake, including four deaths, a forest fire of monumental proportions, and a variety of other results. When two agents serving a compliance order arrived at a plot on which Butch was starting to build a retirement home, they were shot and buried on the property, and Butch fled into the mountains. A massive effort led by the regional director to capture Butch was begun, with Joe forced to guide a posse of agents in his wake.

This reader could envision a much different conclusion than the one the author chose, but up until that point, I found the novel powerful, especially the forest fire scenes and Joe’s efforts to return from the mountain. It is a riveting description of the wilderness, and Joe’s return apparently sets the stage for his future efforts. Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2014.