Book Reviews: And Sometimes I Wonder About You by Walter Mosley and Fallout by Paul Thomas

And Sometimes I Wonder About YouAnd Sometimes I Wonder About You
A Leonid McGill Mystery #5
Walter Mosley
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-8041-7209-7
Trade Paperback

Leonid Trotter McGill’s New York City office now officially answers its phone “McGill and Son detective agency,” a recent development.  One of his sons, Twilliam (usually just “Twill”), is a new addition.  His relationships with just about all his nearest and dearest being fraught with complexities:  He hasn’t seen his father, Clarence, the charismatic revolutionary who calls himself “Tolstoy” McGill, in years; his wife has recently attempted suicide.  His “blood son” and daughter are Dmitri and Tatyana; Twill and Shelly are the two sired by other men but who Leonid raised exactly the same as his own offspring.  And then there is Gordo, his mentor, boxing trainer, and the man who he considers “his true father.”

Those relationships, and the assorted women who cross his path, either professionally or otherwise, (with several of whom he falls in love or lust, or both) are a major part of this novel, the balance of which are the several cases that come to him.  These multiple plot lines arise in different parts of the book, which is as complex as these may make it sound.  But with this master storyteller, that is not a deficit.  The first of these is introduced in the first pages of the book, and she is a gorgeous woman named Marella Herzog, who fits both definitions:  Client and lover.  Their first meeting, when he is aware of a scent she is wearing, causes “a strong reaction in a section of my heart that had almost been forgotten.”   He describes his secretary as having “gray-blue eyes [which] carried all the sadness of the last days of autumn and her voice was so soft that it could have been a memory.”    Another sometime lover is the “color of pure gold that hadn’t been polished for some years,” with hair that was “naturally wavy and darkly blond.”

He thinks “sadness had as many striations as a rainbow – – only in grays.”  The writing is replete with lines like these:  When McGill visits his wife in the hospital, he thinks “I wanted to say something kind, to slap her and tell her to snap out of it.  I would have torn out my hair if I wasn’t already bald.”  McGill, 55, is self-described as an “old, off-the-rack straphanger;” and “it has always amazed me how a woman’s eyes and her words can find a direct line to my animal heart;” when he speaks to a waitress, she smiles at him, and he muses “as had been its purpose since humans became a species, the smile socialized me.”  I briefly had a difficult time recognizing the quote that provides the title of the book, but the author kindly reminded me:  “Sometimes I think that everybody in the world in crazy, except for me and you – – and sometimes I wonder about you.”  The writing throughout is wonderful, but then we expect nothing less from this author, who carries the reader along swiftly on the ride through his newest, 49th novel, and it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2016.

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FalloutFallout
A Tito Ihaka Novel #5
Paul Thomas
Bitter Lemon Press, April 2015
ISBN: 978-1-908-52449-2
Trade Paperback

This sequel to Death on Demand brings the reader back to New Zealand and the Central Police Dept.  There are a number of cops who alternate in prominence in the plot, among them District Commander Finbar McGrail, who, we are told, became Auckland District Commander and developed an appreciation for wine pretty much at the same time.   McGrail is still haunted by a 27-year-old case, his first, when as a new D.I. he investigated the murder of a 17-year-old girl, Polly Stenson.  The investigation comes to a halt less than a year later when the police still have no viable suspects in her killing, coming to the conclusion that she was merely at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Only a year from retirement, he is approached one day by a man who was present at the murder scene at the time in question, and given a lead as to who might have killed Polly.

We then meet former D.I. Johan Van Roon, and the man who had at one time been his mentor:  Maori cop Tito Ihaka, described as “unkempt, overweight, intemperate, unruly, unorthodox and profane” and “the brown Sherlock Holmes,” the latter having been banished to the hinterlands several years ago after a case which he had stubbornly insisted was a murder, not, as everyone else was convinced, a ‘simple’ hit-and-run accident.  Now a Detective Sergeant, he is asked by McGrail to follow up on the new lead.  Van Roon has left the force in disgrace, now a pariah in the police force and working, when he can find employment, as a private investigator and security consultant.  He is hired to find a man who disappeared right after the Stenson murder, for a very attractive fee.  Events occur in such a way that both Ihaka and Van Roon reopen the cold case to try to find the murderer.

At the same time, Ihaka starts a completely different investigation, one that involves the death of his father, “a union firebrand and renegade Marxist,” decades ago, thought to have been of natural causes.  To make things even more complex, a man with whom his father was involved died in a supposed accident one week later.  Coincidence?  He thinks not.

The author was born in the UK but has lived for most of his life in New Zealand, which is the setting for his novels.  The biggest hurdle for me in this book was with the local vernacular/regional jargon/idiom, as well as the many political discussions, making it somewhat slow reading.  But the complex plot was very interesting, and on the whole the book was enjoyable.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2016.

Book Review: The Cleaner by Paul Cleave

The CleanerThe Cleaner
Paul Cleave
Atria, December 2012
ISBN 978-1-4516-7779-9
Trade Paperback

Meet Joe Middleton. Some people think he’s Slow Joe or Simple Joe. He’s an average guy with an average job. He’s a janitor, a cleaner, for the Christchurch, New Zealand police department. He has two goldfish. He visits his nag of a mom on a regular basis for meatloaf dinners.

Joe is also a serial killer. He’s raped and killed several women so far and knows the police investigation is going nowhere. How? Because, as a cleaner, he has access to the rooms where all the evidence is kept. However, he’s made a discovery and he’s not happy about it. A recent murder victim has been found. Although Joe didn’t kill her, the real perpetrator is setting him up for it. This prompts Joe to start his own investigation to find the real killer. He’s intelligent and by using deductive reasoning will narrow down the suspects.

However, Joe has other worries, namely the pesky women in his life. Besides his mother, there is Sally, a co-worker who he thinks has a schoolgirl crush on him. There is also the enigmatic Melissa…who just may be his equal in viciousness.

Dark humor runs throughout this novel, first published in New Zealand and expanded for publication in America. Its graphic details left me cringing but Cleave has presented this serial killer as-almost-likeable in a strange but morbid fashion. I didn’t really become a fan of Joe in the sense of seeing him as the hero. He’s definitely not, but there was something about the book that urged me to follow behind him-although not too closely-to see what happened next.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, October 2013.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

Book Reviews: The Memory of Trees by F.G. Cottam and Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham

The Memory of TreesThe Memory of Trees
F.G. Cottam
Severn House, October 2013
ISBN 978-0-7278-8315-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Billionaire Saul Abercrombie owns a vast tract of land on the Pembrokeshire coast.  His plan is to restore the ancient forest that covered the area before medieval times, and he employs young arboreal expert Tom Curtis to oversee this massively ambitious project.

Saul believes that restoring the land to its original state will rekindle those spirits that folklore insists once inhabited his domain. But the re-planting of the forest will revive an altogether darker and more dangerous entity – and Saul’s employee Tom will find himself engaging in an epic, ancient battle between good and evil.  A battle in which there can be only one survivor.

We have a collective unease when it comes to deep forests and that unease has pervaded our storytelling world for a long time. From Hansel and Gretel abandoned in the woods to Dorothy’s trek with her companions to the simple stories of British highwaymen, we’ve been preconditioned to prefer open space. With that mindset, I anticipated a good scary tale in The Memory of Trees. Alas, it didn’t quite pan out that way.

The idea of megalomaniacal men trying to manipulate sorcery to obtain good health or immortality is not a new idea and it’s a serviceable motive for Saul Abercrombie’s desire to rebuild a vast forest on his land but I found his total disregard for what might happen to his daughter rather unlikely. Even more so was everyone’s lack of serious alarm when confronted with abnormal and threatening situations. As an example, Tom Curtis and Sam Freemantle go to a location called Gibbet Mourning where they observe something that is undeniably menacing and actually begins to “rustle and shiver” and make sighing noises when Sam approaches it. Should I find myself in such a scenario, I’d run for the nearest collection of people and hide in a dark corner but Sam and Tom calmly talk about hauntings and agree that they don’t like the place. That’s it. That’s also pretty unbelievable.

The growing malevolence is made very obvious but, somehow, it didn’t really make much of an impact on me, possibly because the cast of characters is too big and too widespread, making it a little difficult to remember exactly who they are. If you can’t connect with a character, it’s hard to really care about what happens to them.  When very strange things begin to occur with the plantings, there’s little reaction beyond noting the strange things.

That lack of reaction to practically everything that goes on in this story is essentially why it didn’t work for me because it meant there was no real tension. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for The Memory of Trees, I enjoyed Mr. Cottam‘s style and obvious ability to write and will try something else by him. I do think other readers would enjoy this book more if they take logic and normal human behavior out of it and just read it as a tale of ancient evil come to life.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.

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Anne Perry and the Murder of the CenturyAnne Perry and the Murder of the Century
Peter Graham
Skyhorse Publishing/W.W. Norton & Company, May 2013
ISBN 978-1-62087-630-5
Hardcover
Originally published in 2011 in New Zealand under the title
So Brilliantly Clever: Parker, Hulme and the Murder That Shocked the World

From the publisher—

The spellbinding true story of Anne Perry, her friend Pauline Parker, and the brutal crime they committed in the name of friendship.

On June 22, 1954, teenage friends Juliet Hulme—better known as bestselling mystery writer Anne Perry—and Pauline Parker went for a walk in a New Zealand park with Pauline’s mother, Honora. Half an hour later, the girls returned alone, claiming that Pauline’s mother had had an accident. But when Honora Parker was found in a pool of blood with the brick used to bludgeon her to death close at hand, Juliet and Pauline were quickly arrested, and later confessed to the killing. Their motive? A plan to escape to the United States to become writers, and Honora’s determination to keep them apart. Their incredible story made shocking headlines around the world and would provide the subject for Peter Jackson’s Academy Award–nominated film, Heavenly Creatures.

A sensational trial followed, with speculations about the nature of the girls’ relationship and possible insanity playing a key role. Among other things, Parker and Hulme were suspected of lesbianism, which was widely considered to be a mental illness at the time. This mesmerizing book offers a brilliant account of the crime and ensuing trial and shares dramatic revelations about the fates of the young women after their release from prison. With penetrating insight, this thorough analysis applies modern psychology to analyze the shocking murder that remains one of the most interesting cases of all time.

We never like to think our children are capable of doing horrific things and it’s even more difficult to understand when two individuals predisposed to such acts find each other. When that happens, behavior that may never have gone beyond thoughts can become reality and this seems to have been the case with Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker. The interesting thing to me is that Juliet was considered the dominant personality and, yet, it was Pauline’s desire to kill her mother that they carried out.

Both girls thought they were “geniuses far above the common herd of mankind”, a personality trait frequently found in anti-social personality disorders. They had developed their own sort of religion in which sin could be a good thing although they didn’t appear to take it seriously; it was mostly a form of self-entertainment. Both were very narcissistic and showed no remorse when they were found out. In many ways, they mirror the 1924 case of Leopold and Loeb. As intelligent as they may have been, especially Juliet, they were really clumsy with their attack on Pauline’s mother and their ineptitude was probably due to lack of knowledge about such things but there is no doubt that impulse control was not a factor as they planned the murder in detail.

Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century is a fascinating account of a sensational case. Modern-day readers from  the US and other more “sophisticated” countries won’t recognize this as the murder of the century but it certainly was in 1950’s New Zealand. There are recognizable contributing elements such as the girls’ self-imposed isolation and their obsessive dependence on each other and it’s interesting that Juliet received much rougher treatment in prison for no apparent reason.

Overall, the accounting of Juliet’s and Pauline’s lives after prison takes a harsher approach to Juliet, who took the name of Anne Perry in an attempt at anonymity. In particular, she is painted as an icy woman even in her 70’s and, with this, I must take some exception. I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Perry in 2002 at a book event and spent a few moments chatting with her over my display of her books. She was nothing but charming and friendly and I suspect that her demeanor towards readers is quite different from how she reacts to those who pry into her life. At the time that I met her, I had not heard her story but, when I did a year or two later, it did not change my opinion that she is a likeable person. I believe Anne Perry is a prime example of the young person who commits a terrible act but is able to redeem herself in later life and would never pose a threat to anyone again. I have no reason to doubt the veracity of Mr. Graham‘s account of this crime and its aftermath but it’s time to let it rest. Anne Perry’s private life is hers to protect and I’m content to just enjoy her books.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.

Book Review: The Laughterhouse by Paul Cleave

The LaughterhouseThe Laughterhouse
Paul Cleave
Atria Books, August 2012
ISBN 978-1-4516-7795-9
Trade Paperback

As a brand new police officer, Theodore Tate’s first case involved the murder of a little girl in an abandoned slaughterhouse. The killer was caught, then himself murdered by the child’s father, who was jailed for fifteen years. In this time Theo has been a PI, again a cop, and again a PI, just barely paying his wife’s medical bills. Then, on a cold March day, the news comes in of a particularly gruesome murder, then, frighteningly of yet another.

Meanwhile, the whole Christchurch police department, including Tate and his former partner and friend, Carl Schroder, attend the funeral of a fellow officer, which ends up with a whole lot of booze floating around. Tate is a recovering alcoholic and the only sober one capable of taking on the investigation when the detectives are called out. It isn’t long before connections are made linking these murders with what happened fifteen years before, and so the manhunt is on. The stakes raise when a doctor also connected to that old case is kidnapped, along with his three young daughters.

I’ll admit it took me days to get into this story. I don’t like books about wanton killers. The book’s tone is mostly dismal and dark. Most of all, I really dislike books written in present tense, which this one is, and I don’t like to go into the killer’s point-of-view. When I began the book, I would read one to three pages at a sitting before going on to something else. But then a funny thing happened. I found a few more pages slipping past, then a chapter or maybe two. By the finale, I couldn’t wait to see how the story played out.

Mr. Cleave is a wonderful writer—although I’d still rather skip the present tense, which even at the end I found intrusive. Your mileage may vary. The plotting is terrific. Motivation behind the acts of violence is chilling, yet at the same time fascinating. Most of all, as with all extraordinary books, the characters are compelling. Even the children, one a baby, will grab you and not let go. Still, while Theodore Tate is an excellent protagonist, I believe the killer stole the show.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, December 2012.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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.