Book Review: The Crimes of Paris by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

The Crimes of Paris
Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler
Little Brown & Company, April 2009
ISBN 978-0-316-01790-9
Hardcover

The book begins with the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911 from the Louvre. It ends only a few years later when an artist of some renown named Marcel Duchamp drew a mustache on a small reproduction of La Gioconda which, in effect, as the authors say, transformed the painting from a “masterpiece of Renaissance art to an icon of modernism.”

That was in 1919. A mere eight years had passed, during which Paris had experienced a World War and been the host to nearly every giant of science, literature, the arts and politics. It was an amazing time when Trotsky and Marx, Hemingway and Picasso and Cezanne met and drank and socialized in Montmartre and Montparnasse and attended original short plays at the Grand Guiginol.

It was a period when the first professional private investigator appeared and the science of forensic investigation developed as a recognized arm of law enforcement. And it was a period during which some of the most vicious and creative gangs of criminals roamed the streets of the City of Lights.

The book is engagingly written and organized in a thoughtful way to encourage readers to delve more deeply into intriguing topics with voluminous notes, and an extensive bibliography. Yet, a reader who is only casually interested in the period and the players will find this book a fast and enjoyable read. But a casual reader will be drawn in, to the writing, the style, the language and the content. This is a fascinating work of great consequence.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Book Review: The Sorbonne Affair by Mark Pryor

The Sorbonne Affair
A Hugo Marston Novel #7
Mark Pryor
Seventh Street Books, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-6338-8261-4
Trade Paperback

The seventh book featuring Hugo Marston, former FBI agent and now head of security for the U.S. embassy in Paris. Helen Hancock, an internationally famous romance author, is staying in Paris working on her latest opus and teaching a seminar on writing with a small group of students. She reports a hidden camera in her room of the exclusive hotel where she is staying. Shortly thereafter a hotel employee with a gambling problem is found stabbed in a hotel stairwell. When images from the camera in Helen’s room are found on his laptop, the police assume that he intended to blackmail Helen to pay his gambling debts. Helen has a rock-solid alibi for the time of his murder, leaving the police to wonder who else he’d tried to extort. Then a video showing Helen in an embarrassing situation, clearly from the camera hidden in her room, finds its way onto the internet, causing much consternation to her fans and upsetting her publisher. Two more murders follow in short order, complicating the investigation being conducted by Hugo and a Paris police lieutenant.

In the meantime the convicted bank robber from the last case Hugo worked as an FBI agent has managed to obtain parole and disappears from the United States. Tom Green, Hugo’s former FBI partner and current tenant, is convinced that the man is heading for Paris to obtain revenge upon them both. Tom is something of a hothead and Hugo serves as a brake on his impulsive actions, leading to a lot of dialog along the lines of “I’m going to….” “No, no, that would be (dangerous/illegal/not good/(fill in the blank)”.

Pryor loves Paris, every inch of it. The people, the food, the streets and parks, the architecture, all are glowingly described. The book is well worth reading just for the travelogue.

In an interesting twist, the crisis with the bank robber that would lead to both Hugo and Tom leaving the FBI is described in a series of flashbacks presented in reverse chronological sequence. That is, the scene foreshadowing a showdown with their boss over what he considered their mishandling of the situation comes early in the book and the initial scene where Hugo and Tom realize they are witnessing a bank robbery is at the very end of the book, while the contemporary crime is treated in straightforward as it occurs order.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, July 2018.

Book Reviews: Badlands by C.J. Box and Murder on the Quai by Cara Black

badlandsBadlands
C.J. Box
Minotaur Books, , August 2016
ISBN 978-1-3125-4690-8
Mass MarketPaperback

When the art of fracking created an oil boom in North Dakota, it also gave rise to all sorts of complications from housing shortages to drug crime.  What was before a sleepy little town, now arose a bustling area where the sheriff’s staff grew like topsy to keep pace.  The latest addition is Cassie Dewell, hired as chief investigator from her old job in Montana where she became obsessed with the so-called Lizard King, a trucker who preyed and killed prostitutes plying truck stops from coast to coast.

In fact, that’s how we are introduced to Cassie, as she travels to North Carolina to participate in an interrogation of a person suspected of being the perpetrator just before she assumes her new duties.  When she arrives in Bakken County, ND, the sheriff confides in Cassie his suspicion that all is not well in the department, and asks her to undertake an investigation by herself without telling her why.  Meanwhile, a shipment of a large quantity of drugs is delivered by car, which is forced off the road by a rival gang, and a  duffel bag is flung wide of the accident scene and recovered by a 12-year-old newspaper delivery boy.

As the plot unfolds, Cassie is in the middle of it all, making assumptions, detecting, analyzing, and finally guessing that the boy is the key to it all, except for the possible corruption that might exist in the law enforcement personnel (which of course is related to the drug gangs).  The author demonstrates his reputation for writing novels with excellent characterizations and providing detailed environmental descriptions.  When the outside temperature falls to 20 and 30 degrees below freezing, the reader almost feels compelled to turn up the heat.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2016.

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murder-on-the-quaiMurder on the Quai
An Aimée Leduc Investigation #16
Cara Black
Soho Crime, June 2016
ISBN 978-1-616-95624-0
Hardcover

After 15 Aimée Leduc mysteries, Cara Black turned her attention backward in time to the start of Aimee’s career, providing a back story to her beginnings as a detective, and introducing some of the basics which inhabit subsequent novels, namely how she met Rene Friant, her partner in Leduc Detective, and acquired Miles Davis, her bichon frise.  At the time, Aimée was a first-year medical student, hating every moment.

Then one day while Aimée was in her father’s office, as he was about to leave for Berlin to obtain the Stasi file on his renegade wife, who had  disappeared years before, a distant relation asks him to find a young woman who perhaps was the last person to see her father before he was murdered.  Instead, Aimée takes the case on herself as her father had refused to do so before he left.

From that point on, all the attributes of an Aimée Leduc mystery flow:  Aimée getting into all kinds of danger; all the flavor and smells of Paris streets and neighborhoods; the give-and-take between Aimée and her godfather and high police official Morbier; Aimée’s passion for discounted fashion clothes; among other common features of the series.  Since it was her first case, the progress is not as smooth as future investigations, as she stumbles and learns, but unquestionably the book is recommended as an introduction to her subsequent adventures.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2016.

Book Review: Rook by Sharon Cameron

RookRook
Sharon Cameron
Scholastic Press, May 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-67599-4
Hardcover

This review has proven to be as stubborn as Sophie Bellamy.  Therein lies the ultimate compliment.  To me, it is only when I’m consumed by furious joy and almost dumb with delight that writing a review becomes a seemingly insurmountable challenge.  I’m torn between simply carrying this tome everywhere I go so that I can thrust it into someone’s hand and simply say, “This.” and gushing like a new grandparent.

Rook is a remarkably enjoyable, engaging read.  Each of the colorful, captivating characters has his or her own agenda.  Engulfed in a time when a coin stamped with the year 2024 is considered ancient and satellites are machines from the Time Before, enamored with and eagerly enthusiastic for Sophia, I could not keep myself from guessing who was true to Sophie and her most honorable cause, and who was true only to himself…..or herself, for that matter.

Instead of moving forward, it seems that we’ve only gone backward…all progress has been undone.  Rather than gender equality, women are reduced.  Instead of a democracy, a dictatorship, topped by the illogical, egotistical insanity of narcissistic men that are only up when holding others down.

Against unimaginable odds, The Red Rook devises a daring plan including a mass release of those wrongfully imprisoned to be followed by the triumphant toppling of the terrifying regime.  Action is aplenty, alongside conflicting emotions, witty banter and immediately intriguing ideas.  It isn’t possible to read this story without taking pauses to consider and ponder points.  Not in a “what the ……?” way but in an “hmmmm…..interesting, I couldn’t have conjured….” way.

While appropriate and appealing to Middle Grade readers, I would be remiss if I limited my recommendation to that group.  Like a giant bag of Hershey’s miniatures, there is something for everyone.  Enjoy.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2016.

Book Reviews: Murder on the Champ de Mars by Cara Black and Season of Fear by Brian Freeman

Murder on the Champ de MarsMurder on the Champ de Mars
An Aimée Leduc Investigation #15
Cara Black
Soho Crime, March 2015
ISBN: 978-1-616-95286-0
Hardcover

Returning to work after a maternity leave, Aimée Leduc becomes too busy to really care for her six-month-old daughter.  To begin with, she undertakes a surveillance job, occupying her evenings.  Then she becomes involved in a personal investigation involving gypsies in the belief she can discover the identity of the murderer of her father 10 years before.  And to top it off, she has to fend off her former lover who, with his new wife, is attempting to wrest possession of her baby from her.

As in all the novels in the series, this one takes place in one area of Paris, the seventh arrondissnent, home to the Parisian elite, the Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides.  Such a setting gives the author an opportunity to give the reader a glimpse into the seats of power in the ministries and embassies, the homes and gardens of the upper crust as she pursues her quest to uncover the facts surrounding her father’s death.

One criticism:  The reader is swamped with too much in the way of couture, lipstick applications and other frilly descriptions which slow down the progress in what is a first-rate mystery.  Also, the surveillance seems to be an afterthought, just to prove that the Leduc Detective Agency actually exists, and is never really developed.  That notwithstanding, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2015.

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Season of FearSeason of Fear
A Cab Bolton Thriller #2
Brian Freeman
Quercus, March 2015
ISBN: 978-1-62366-5407-8
Hardcover

In the present political climate, a novel that reflects the types of misinformation and downright lies which proliferate would have been welcome.  This novel promised an insight into the machinations of political operatives, parties and candidates, but instead turns out to be a murder mystery with a somewhat questionable conclusion.

The book brings back for the second time Cab Bolton, sometime private detective whose mother is a well-known Hollywood star, and friend of Diane Birch, candidate for governor with a secret or two to hide.  Ten years earlier, at a political rally, her husband (then a gubernatorial candidate) and two others were murdered.  And now, a decade later, history is about to repeat itself.  In between, a few more people are killed.  The only element of mystery:  Is it a right-wing conspiracy or not?

There are some indications of how politicians think and political parties operate, but really these are superficial.  The conclusion appeared artificial to this reader, and unlikely.  One other criticism: I found the writing at times is too flowery and heavy, slowing this reader down.  But over-all, the story progresses well and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2015.

Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness and A Little in Love by Susan Fletcher

The Rest of Us Just Live HereThe Rest of Us Just Live Here
Patrick Ness
HarperTeen, October 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-240316-2
Hardcover

Surviving high school is a challenge even when you’re normal and as well adjusted as a teen can be, but what happens when you feel like you’re the least important in your circle of friends? What about when your mom is an elected official running for national office, your dad is an alcoholic afterthought and you have poorly controlled OCD? Dealing with all that might be overwhelming, you think, but what if the situation was a lot crazier and scarier than even that? Suppose your town and your school are ground zero for a cosmic battle, a repeat of one that wiped out the high school less than ten years ago? Now imagine that your best friend has powers beyond anything you could explain to a stranger and is worshiped by mountain lions. Add in the possibility that the ‘indie’ kids at school are supposed to save mankind and you have quite the situation.

This is what high school senior Mickey faces. He’s in serious like with biracial friend Henna, scared that his sister Mel, who almost died (she did briefly, but was brought back to life) from an eating disorder, will relapse and he’s distressed by the flare-up of his OCD. At the same time, he’s convinced that everyone tolerates him because, as he puts it, “I’m the least.”

As the craziness surrounding the possibility that zombies, ghosts and creatures affected by the ubiquitous blue lights may be about to defeat the ‘indie’ kids, teen readers will find the challenges Mickey, his sister Mel, Henna and best friend Jared are dealing with as graduation approaches are ones they can easily relate to. And the second layer of supernatural happenings is a nice counterpart to the sort of angst each of the main characters face as they begin to realize just how much life will change soon, no matter what else happens. This is a fun, quirky and emotional story about growing up and the insanity that accompanies that experience.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2015.

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A Little in LoveA Little in Love
Eponine’s Story from Les Misérables
Susan Fletcher
Chicken House, September 2015
ISBN: 978-0-545-82960-1
Trade Paperback

How do you think your life might turn out if you were born in a field, your father gambled away every cent and as a result, you were raised to hate and steal? Meet Eponine, one of the characters in Les Misérables. This is her story from the time she’s born to the day she’s lying in her own blood at age seventeen after a final selfless act. You know how the story ends because it’s in the first sentence in the book, an entry from June 5th, 1832.

When the book begins, Eponine is looking back to what her mother told her about when she was born. Her father was away at the battle of Waterloo, but spent more time robbing his fellow soldiers as they were dying than fighting. She describes him thusly: “His eyes were quick like a rat’s—quick and cunning and black”. He came home rich and bought an inn that was in terrible shape. He lied about the inn, about the war and pretty much everything.

No matter how successful the inn was, he found a way to make money, food and clothing disappear, so when Eponine and her younger sister Azelma became old enough, they were trained to steal from drunken patrons and then from the townspeople.

When she’s four, a woman appears at the inn with her daughter Cosette and offers to pay for the family to care for her because the mom can’t work and take care of Cosette at the same time. Instead, the girl is treated like a slave, starved, verbally and physically abused, as well as forced to do the most demeaning chores, sometimes multiple times. While Eponine feels uncomfortable treating the new girl abusively, she has little choice.

Eight years later, a man appears and ransoms Colette for 1500 francs, informing the family that her mother had died and asked him to find and care for her daughter. Of course, Eponine’s father gambles the money away and in desperation to keep the inn, commits a terrible crime. The family, which now includes a younger brother aged six and unwanted by the parents, flees for Paris under cover of darkness. The journey is arduous and leaves everyone hardened and on the edge of starvation. When her little brother is abandoned as the family boards a barely functional rowboat, Eponine’s heart shrinks painfully.

It’s this event that starts her looking inward and wondering whether there might be a better way to live than one of constant theft and cruelty. In Paris, the family live with a gang of thieves until they steal enough to get their own place. Eponine meets Marius, a young man who rents the room next to theirs. It is this meeting that really turns her heart around and even though she doesn’t stop doing bad things right away, she is able to figure out what she needs to do to have a sense of worth and purpose. How she gets to that point is sad, but understandable.

I have not read Les Misérables nor have I seen the movie. That didn’t stop me from enjoying this book and I doubt it will diminish the level of satisfaction when teens, particularly those who like stories of tough times or historical tales, read the book.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2015.

Book Reviews: A Nasty Piece of Work by Robert Littell and City of Darkness and Light by Rhys Bowen

A Nasty Piece of WorkA Nasty Piece of Work
Robert Littell
St. Martin’s Griffin, October 2014
ISBN 978-1-250-05463-0
Trade Paperback

Lemuel Gunn, now a private detective in New Mexico, once was a CIA agent in Afghanistan before being unceremoniously sent home and cashiered out of the service, and, before that, a policeman in New Jersey.  While he holds a PI license, he basically whiles his time away in a gigantic trailer built for Douglas Fairbanks Jr. while he was making a movie.

That is, until one day he is approached by Ornella Neppi, a beautiful but tarnished bail bondswoman who put up $125,000 to spring one Emilio Gava after he was arrested on a cocaine charge.  Her problem (and she has lots of them) is that Gava has skipped town and she is in danger of losing the funds if he doesn’t show up in court.  She asks Gunn to find Gava, and he undertakes the task.  And what an adventure it becomes.

The author, known for his spy thrillers, has proved he can write a detective novel with the best of them, with excellent characters, unexpected plot turns, and interesting human emotions.  The plot keeps moving forward at a steady pace, and even the description of a My Lai-type massacre in the present-day Asian action is startling.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2014.

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City of Darkness and LightCity of Darkness and Light
A Molly Murphy Mystery #13
Rhys Bowen
Minotaur Books, January 2015
ISBN 978-1-250-05160-8
Trade Paperback

This mystery series, featuring Molly Murphy (now Mrs. Molly Sullivan and mother of a bouncing boy) usually takes place in Little Old New York at the turn of the last century.  But, because Capt. Sullivan has arrested the head of the mafia on the lower East Side and their home is bombed and burned to the ground in retribution, he insists that Molly and little Liam leave the city and go far away for their safety.

Molly’s friends, Gus and Sid, are in Paris, so it is decided that Molly and the baby should go there.  But when she finally arrives in the City of Light after a rough voyage, Gus and Sid are nowhere to be found.  So Molly has to trek all over the city trying to find them.  And in doing so, she becomes involved in another murder mystery.  So much for her promise to her husband to give up being a detective.

Molly is a delightful character, and in this episode, she exhibits a degree of sophistication that shows her character and development, far removed from the Irish immigrant who first landed on the shores of the U.S.  The plot pieces together an intricate mystery amid a graphic portrayal of Paris and its art scene, featuring such luminaries as Picasso and Degas.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2015.