Gods and Beasts
Reagan Arthur Books, March 2013
Alex Morrow, DS with the Strathclyde police, is back in the newest book by this Scottish author. The twins with whom Morrow was pregnant in the last book, the wonderful The End of the Wasp Season, are now a few months old. As the new book opens, she is deep into what is referred to as “the Barrowfields investigation,” when a new case comes her way: One week before Christmas, during the course of an armed robbery in a busy Glasgow post office, an elderly man who was patiently waiting in line suddenly is seen to assist the gunman, but not before handing his young grandson to a stranger, soon after which the grandfather is brutally murdered by the robber, who makes a clean escape. The only clue the police have is the fact that the alarm system was not working the morning of the crime. And the additional fact that the innocent bystander to whom the young boy was entrusted turns out to be much more complex than he at first appears.
I have had nothing but praise for the several earlier novels by Ms. Mina that I have read, and would like to say that this newest book was equally wonderful. But I have to admit that I found it slow-moving and felt almost disjointed, as the several story lines unfold, including rampant control of the city by gangs (mostly involved in the drug trade, said to be worth more than a billion pounds a year in Scotland); police corruption; and a goodly amount of political discussion. The final pieces don’t fall into place until nearly the very last page. I should perhaps add that Paddy Meehan, the protagonist of several of Ms. Mina’s earlier books, makes a couple of peripheral appearances here.
I will still look forward to future offering from this author, but this one didn’t come up to the high level reached by its predecessors for this reviewer. Oh, and should one wonder, the title is from Aristotle: “Those who live outside the city walls, and are self-sufficient, are either Gods or Beasts.”
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2013.
The Devil in Her Way
Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, May 2013
Maureen Coughlin made her initial fictional appearance in The Devil She Knows. Now, at the age of 30, after being a waitress for nine years, living through a series of unrewarding relationships, and residing with her mother on Staten Island, she decides to become a cop. When the test for the NYPD is postponed, she applies and is accepted for the police academy in New Orleans. And that’s where this novel begins, with Maureen serving her probationary trial period under the tutelage of Preacher Boyd, a wizened, jaundiced but savvy veteran NOPD police officer.
The plot, such as it is, follows Maureen and Preacher from her graduation from the police academy through her probationary period. On her first day, she answers a domestic call where she is brutally punched by a man bursting through the door. While backup officers recover two pounds of weed, while she looks on from the street, a young boy seems to want to tell her something, but is warned off by someone across the street. This sets the stage for an ever-inquisitive Maureen to pursue what turns out to be a major investigation, including murders, best left to homicide detectives, a specialty to which she aspires.
As a protagonist, Maureen leaves a lot to be desired. Perhaps it is too early in her career to wish for more and she will develop more fully in future installments. As a rookie, as her training officer reminds her often, much of what she attempts is none of her business. Sometimes it turns out OK, others, not so much. The novel starts out slowly, and does not grab the reader, at least this one, until virtually the final pages The author, who also moved from Staten Island to New Orleans, interweaves various post-Katrina observations throughout the book, reminding the reader of the devastation which still plagues the city.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2013.
Touch & Go
Signet, November 2013
Mass Market Paperback
This standalone opens with the kidnapping of Justin Denbe, his 45-year-old pill-popping wife Libby, and their 15-year-old daughter, Ashlyn [who would seem to be wise beyond her years]. The author switches back and forth from Libby’s 1st person p.o.v. to third person throughout, having the effect of making Libby and her family not just ciphers, or “the victims,” but equally protagonists for whom the reader feels empathy. This is nominally a police procedural about that kidnapping, filled with the expected quotient of suspense, but ultimately it’s much more than that: it’s about a family which seemingly has it all, from their opulent Back Bay house in Boston to the hundred-million-dollar construction business headed by Justin.
While bringing back characters known from Ms. Gardner’s previous novels, 29-year-old corporate investigator and former Massachusetts State Police Trooper Tessa Leoni and Boston’s “reigning super cop,” Detective Sergeant D.D. Warren, other cops called into the case include New Hampshire detective Wyatt Foster and his former lover, FBI Special Agent Nicole “Nicky” Adams. There appear to be no leads as to who pulled off this apparently very well-planned abduction, or any motive, as the first full day goes by with no ransom demand or other contact.
The suspense continues along pulse-pounding and unexpected paths right up until the end. I found the novel even better than I had expected, although I had read and enjoyed a few of the author’s books in the past, and I will eagerly await the next one. Recommended.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2013.