Book Review: The Deep by Alma Katsu @almakatsu @TransworldBooks @The_FFBC

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Title: The Deep
Author: Alma Katsu
Publisher: Transworld Digital
Publication date: March 10, 2020
Genres: Mystery, Dark Fantasy, Thriller

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iBooks // Google Play
Amazon // Book Depository // Indiebound

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The Deep
Alma Katsu
Transworld Digital, March 2020
ISBN 978-0-525-53790-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Someone, or something, is haunting the Titanic.

This is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the passengers of the ship from the moment they set sail: mysterious disappearances, sudden deaths. Now suspended in an eerie, unsettling twilight zone during the four days of the liner’s illustrious maiden voyage, a number of the passengers – including millionaires Madeleine Astor and Benjamin Guggenheim, the maid Annie Hebbley and Mark Fletcher – are convinced that something sinister is going on . . . And then, as the world knows, disaster strikes.

Years later and the world is at war. And a survivor of that fateful night, Annie, is working as a nurse on the sixth voyage of the Titanic’s sister ship, the Britannic, now refitted as a hospital ship. Plagued by the demons of her doomed first and near fatal journey across the Atlantic, Annie comes across an unconscious soldier she recognises while doing her rounds. It is the young man Mark. And she is convinced that he did not – could not – have survived the sinking of the Titanic . . .

Not too long ago, I listened to the audiobook of Alma Katsu’s The Hunger and, truthfully, I was mesmerized by the ominous atmosphere she created. That ambience comes largely from my knowing ahead of time what really happened with the Donner Party, the ineffable tragedy of it all, and the promise of The Deep was that it would give me much of the same feeling. I didn’t do audio on this one but visually reading it didn’t lessen the effect.

Was the Titanic imbued with a supernatural touch as the author suggests? Maybe, maybe not, but there is no doubt that the ship’s story is full of ghosts and belief in the occult was popular among the wealthy at the time so Ms. Katsu taking it a bit farther is not really out of line, is it? Even with a sizeable passenger list and crew, there do seem to be an inordinate number of deaths and peculiar events that the people on the voyage can’t truly explain in “normal” terms and then, of course, there is that awful night.

When stewardess Annie finds herself, four years later working as a World War I nurse on board the Titanic’s sister ship, the Britannic, perhaps it’s not surprising that she would come across a wounded soldier who was also on the Titanic’s fateful voyage. Annie carries her own demons with her, though, so possibly her memories are tricking her into thinking that Mark can’t be there because he could not have survived the sinking. Then again…

Ms. Katsu’s real strength lies in her storytelling and on her ability to bring people and historic events to life. The Deep is a compelling tale that could, if you believe just a little, be truth and, might I add, it’s immeasurably enhanced by including a real woman, Violet Jessop, who has to be one of the luckiest seafaring women ever. Well done, Ms. Katsu!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2020.

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An Excerpt from The Deep

Chapter One

October 1916
Morninggate Asylum,
Liverpool

She is not mad.

Annie Hebbley pokes her needle into the coarse gray linen, a soft color, like the feathers of the doves that entrap themselves in the chimneys here, fluttering and crying out, sometimes battering themselves to death in a vain effort to escape.

She is not mad.

Annie’s eyes follow the needle as it runs the length of the hem, weaving in and out of fabric. In and out. In and out. Sharp and shining and so precise.

But there is something in her that is hospitable to madness.

Annie has come to understand the erratic ways of the insane-the crying fits, incoherent babblings, violent flinging of hands and feet. There is, after days and weeks and years, a kind of comforting rhythm to them. But, no, she is not one of them. Of that she is certain.

Certain as the Lord and the Blessed Virgin, her da’ might once have said.

There are a dozen female patients hunched over their sewing, making the room warm and stuffy despite the meagerness of the fire. Work is thought to be palliative to nervous disorders, so many of the inmates are given jobs, particularly those who are here due more to their own poverty than any ailment of mind or body. While most of the indigent are kept in workhouses, Annie has learned, quite a few find their way to asylums instead, if there are any empty beds to keep them. Not to mention the women of sin.

Whatever their reasons for turning up at Morninggate, most of the women here are meek enough and bend themselves to the nurses’ direction. But there are a few of whom Annie is truly afraid.

She pulls in tight to herself as she works, not wanting to brush up against them, unable to shake the suspicion that madness might pass from person to person like a disease. That it festers the way a fine mold grows inside a milk bottle left too long in the sun-undetectable at first but soon sour and corrupting, until all the milk is spoiled.

Annie sits on a hard little stool in the needle room with her morning’s labor puddled in her lap, but it is the letter tucked inside her pocket that brushes up against her thoughts unwillingly, a glowing ember burning through the linen of her dress. Annie recognized the handwriting before she even saw the name on the envelope. She has reread it now at least a dozen times. In the dark cover of night, when no one is looking, she kisses it like a crucifix.

As if drawn to the sin of Annie’s thoughts, a nurse materializes at her shoulder. Annie wonders how long she has been standing there, studying Annie. This one is new. She doesn’t know Annie yet-not well, anyway. They leave Annie to the late arrivals on staff, who haven’t yet learned to be frightened of her.

“Anne, dear, Dr. Davenport would like to see you. I’m to escort you to his office.”

Annie rises from her stool. None of the other women glance up from their sewing. The nurses never turn their backs to the patients of Morninggate, so Annie shuffles down the corridor, the nurse’s presence like a hot poker at her back. If Annie could get a moment alone, she would get rid of the letter. Stash it behind the drapes, tuck it under the carpet runner. She mustn’t let the doctor find it. Just thinking of it again sends a tingle of shame through her body.

But she is never alone at Morninggate.

In the dusty reflection of the hall windows they appear like two ghosts-Annie in her pale, dove-gray uniform, the nurse in her long cream skirt, apron, and wimple. Past a long series of closed doors, locked rooms, in which the afflicted mutter and wail.

What do they scream about? What torments them so? For some, it was gin. Others were sent here by husbands, fathers, even brothers who don’t like the way their women think, don’t like that they are outspoken. But Annie shies away from learning the stories of the truly mad. There’s undoubtedly tragedy there, and Annie’s life has had enough sadness.

The building itself is large and rambling, constructed in several stages from an old East India Company warehouse that shuttered in the 1840s. In the outdoor courtyard, where the women do their exercises in the mornings, the walls are streaked with sweat and spittle, smeared with dirty handprints and smudges of dried blood. Luckily the gaslights are kept low, for economy’s sake, giving the grime a pleasantly warm hue.

They pass the men’s wing; sometimes, Annie can hear their voices through the wall, but today they’re quiet. The men and women are kept separate because some of the women suffer from a peculiar nervous disorder that makes their blood run hot. These women cannot abide the sight of a man, will break out in tremors, try to tear off their clothes, will chew through their own tongues and fall down convulsing.

Or so they say. Annie has never seen it happen. They like to tell stories about the patients, particularly the female ones.

But Annie is safe here, from the great big world. The world of men. And that is what matters. The small rooms, the narrow confines are not so different from the old cottage in Ballintoy, four tiny rooms, the roiling Irish Sea not twenty paces from her front door. Here, the air in the courtyard is ripe with the smell of ocean, too, though if it is close by, Annie cannot see it, has not seen it in four years.

It is both a comfort and a curse. Some days, she wakes from nightmares of black water rushing into her open mouth, freezing her lungs to stone. The ocean is deep and unforgiving. Families in Ballintoy have lost fathers and brothers, sisters and daughters to the sea for as long as she can remember. She’s seen the water of the Atlantic Ocean choked with hundreds of bodies. More bodies than are buried in all of Ballintoy’s graveyard.

And yet on other days, she wakes to find plaster beneath her fingernails where she has scratched at the walls, desperate to get out, to return to it. Her blood surges through her veins with the motion of the sea. She craves it.

On the far side of the courtyard they enter the small vestibule that leads to the doctors’ private rooms. The nurse indicates that Annie should step aside as she knocks and then, at a command to enter, unlocks the door to Dr. Davenport’s office. He rises from behind his desk and gestures to a chair.

Nigel Davenport is a young man. Annie likes him, has always felt he has the well-being of his patients in mind. She’s overheard the nurses talk about how difficult it is for the parish to get doctors to remain at the asylum. Their job is discouraging when so few patients respond to treatment. Plus, it’s far more lucrative to be a family doctor, setting bones and delivering babies. He is always nice to her, if formal. Whenever he sees her, he thinks about the incident with the dove. They all do. How she was found once cradling a dead bird in her arms, cooing to it like a baby.

She knows it wasn’t a baby. It was just a bird. It had fallen out of the flue, hit the hearth in a puff of loose feathers. Dirty, sooty bird, and yet beautiful in its way. She only wanted to hold it. To have something of her own to hold.

He folds his hands and rests them on the desktop. She stares at his long fingers, the way they fold into one another. She wonders if they are strong hands. It is not the first time she has wondered this. “I heard you received another letter yesterday.”

Her heart trembles inside her chest.

“It is against our policy to intrude too much on our patients’ privacy, Annie. We don’t read patients’ mail, as they do at other homes. We are not like that here.” His smile is kind, but there is a slight furrow between his brows and Annie has the strangest urge to press her finger there, to smooth the soft flesh. But of course she would never. Voluntary touching is not allowed. “Here, you may show us only of your own free will. But you can see how these letters would be a matter of concern for us, don’t you?”

His voice is gentle, encouraging, almost a physical caress in the stillness. Bait. She remains silent, as if to speak would be to touch him back. Perhaps if she doesn’t respond, he will stop pressing. Perhaps she will vanish into air if she is quiet enough. She used to play this game all the time in the vast fields and cliffsides of Ballintoy-the recollection returns with startling clarity: the Vanishing Game. Generally, it worked. She could go whole days drifting in the meadow behind the house, imagining stories, without ever being seen or spoken to. A living phantom.

The doctor stretches his neck against his high collar. He has a good, solid neck. Hands, too. He could easily overpower her. That is probably the point of such strength. “Perhaps you would like to show it to me, Annie? For your own peace of mind? It’s not good to have secrets-secrets weigh on you, hold you down.”

She shivers. She longs to share it and burns to hide it. “It’s from a friend.”

“The friend who used to work with you aboard the passenger ship?” He pauses. “Violet, wasn’t it?”

She starts to panic. “She’s working on another ship now. She says they are in dire need of help and she wonders if I would return to service.” There. It’s out.

His dark eyes study her. She cannot resist the weight of his expectation. She has never been good at saying no; all she has ever wanted was to please people, her father, her mother. To please all of them. To be good.

Like she once was.

My good Annie, the Lord favors good girls, said her da’.

She reaches into her pocket and hands him the letter. She can hardly stand to watch him read, feeling as though it is not the letter but her own body that has been exposed.

Then he glances up at her, and slowly his mouth forms a smile.

“Don’t you see, Annie?”

She knots her hands together in her lap. “See?” She knows what he’s going to say next.

“You know that you’re not really sick, not like the others, don’t you?” He says these words kindly, as though he is trying to spare her feelings. As though she doesn’t already know it. “We debated the morality of keeping you here, but we were reluctant to discharge you because- Well, frankly, we didn’t know what to do with you.”

Annie had no recollection of her own past when she was admitted to Morninggate Asylum. She woke up in one of the narrow beds, her arms and legs bruised, not to mention the awful, aching wound on her head. A constable had found her unconscious behind a public house. She didn’t appear to be a prostitute-she was neither dressed for it nor stinking of gin.

But no one knew who she was. At the time, Annie scarcely knew herself. She couldn’t even tell them her name. The physician had no choice but to sign the court order to detain her at the asylum.

Her memory has, over time, begun to return. Not all of it, though; when she tries to recall certain things, all she gets is a blur. The night the great ship went down is, of course, cut into her memory with the prismatic perfection of solid ice. It’s what came before that feels unreal. She remembers the two men, each in their turn, though sometimes she feels as though they have braided together in her mind into just one man, or all men. And then, before that: fragments of green fields and endless sermons, intoned prayer and howling northern wind. A world too unfathomably big to comprehend.

A terrible, gaping loneliness that has been her only companion for four years.

Surely it is better to be kept safe inside this place, while the world and its secrets, its wars, its false promises, are kept away, outside the thick brick walls.

Dr. Davenport looks at her with that same wavering smile. “Don’t you think, Annie?” he is saying.

“Think what?”

“It would be wrong to keep you here, with the war on. Taking up a bed that could be used for someone who is truly unwell. There are soldiers suffering from shell shock. Everton Alley teems with poor and broken spirits, tormented by demons from their time on the battlefield.” His eyes are dark and very steady. They linger on hers. “You must write to the White Star office and ask for your old job, as your friend suggests. It’s the right thing to do under the circumstances.”

She is stunned, not by his assertions but that this is all happening so quickly. She is having trouble keeping up with his words. A slow dread creeps into her chest.

“You’re fine, my dear. You’re just scared. It’s understandable-but you’ll be right as rain once you see your friend and start working again. It’s about time, anyway, don’t you think?”

She can’t help but feel stubbornly rejected, spurned, almost. For four years, she’s managed things so that she could stay. Kept her secrets. Was careful not to disrupt anything, not to do anything wrong.

She has been so good.

Now her life, her home, the only security she knows, is being ripped away from her and she is once more being forced out into the unknown.

But there is no turning back. She knows she cannot refuse him this, cannot refuse him anything. Not when he has been so kind.

He folds up the letter and holds it out to her. Her gaze lingers on his strong hands. Her fingers brush against his when she takes it back. Forbidden.

“I should be happy to sign the release papers,” her doctor says. “Congratulations, Miss Hebbley, on your return to the world.”

3 October 1916

My dear Annie,

I hope this letter finds you. Yes, I am writing again even though I have not heard from you since the letter you sent via the White Star Line head office. You can understand why I continue to write. I pray your condition has not worsened. I was sorry to read of your current situation, although, from your letter, you do not sound unwell to me. Can you ever forgive me for losing track of you after that Terrible Night? I didn’t know if you had lived or died. I feared I would never see you again.

Excerpted from The Deep by Alma Katsu. Copyright © 2020 by Alma Katsu. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Original link: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/586714/the-deep-by-alma-katsu/

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About the Author

Alma Katsu is the author of The Hunger, a reimagining of the story of the Donner Party with a horror twist. The Hunger made NPR’s list of the 100 Best Horror Stories, was named one of the best novels of 2018 by the Observer, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books (and more), and was nominated for a Stoker and Locus Award for best horror novel.

The Taker, her debut novel, has been compared to the early works of Anne Rice and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander for combining historical, the supernatural, and fantasy into one story. The Taker was named a Top Ten Debut Novel of 2011 by Booklist, was nominated for a Goodreads Readers Choice award, and has been published in over 10 languages. It is the first in an award-winning trilogy that includes The Reckoning and The Descent.

Ms. Katsu lives outside of Washington DC with her husband, musician Bruce Katsu. In addition to her novels, she has been a signature reviewer for Publishers Weekly, and a contributor to the Huffington Post. She is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Program and Brandeis University, where she studied with novelist John Irving. She also is an alumni of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers.

Prior to publication of her first novel, Ms. Katsu had a long career in intelligence, working for several US agencies and a think tank. She currently is a consultant on emerging technologies. Additional information can be found on Wikipedia and in this interview with Ozy.com.

Author Links:

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads // Instagram // Pinterest

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Book Reviews: The Irregular by H.B. Lyle and Earthly Remains by Donna Leon

The Irregular
A Different Class of Spy #1
H.B. Lyle
Quercus, November 2017
ISBN: 978-1-6814-4026-2
Hardcover

It’s not easy for an author to come up with an original idea for a novel, much less a plot involving Sherlock Holmes.  But that is just what H.B. Lyle has done, albeit the great detective here only playing a minor cameo role, offstage, as it was.  Instead, he has grasped an historical development, the forerunners of Britain’s MI5 and MI6 in 1909 and using the “best” of the Baker Street Irregulars,Wiggins, as a protagonist.  Not only Holmes, but no less a personage than Winston Churchill plays a minor role in the plot.

The story revolves around Vernon Kell, who apparently headed up the original efforts to establish a counter-intelligence operation in Great Britain, hindered by his inability to find good agents until his friend, Holmes, suggested Higgins.  A substantial portion of the novel recounts Higgins’ exploits and a good deal of background on how the Baker Street Irregulars came to be.  And, of course, we learn a great deal about the conspiracies pre-dating World War I and espionage efforts by Germany and others not only to obtain secrets but also to sow discontent and confusion in London.

The novel is exciting, interesting and fast-moving.  It is an historical mystery, the beginning of what is promised to be a new series, and a welcome one. The author captures the atmosphere of 1909 London with sharp observations and dialogue.  We look forward to its sequel with great anticipation.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2017.

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Earthly Remains
A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery #26
Donna Leon
Atlantic Monthly Press, April 2017
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2647-4
Hardcover

Commissario Guido Brunetti, in the midst of interrogating a suspect, suddenly collapses (intentionally, to prevent a colleague from committing a foolish act) by faking a heart attack. He is taken to the hospital, where no evidence of an attack is found, but just high blood pressure.  While waiting for the results of tests, he concludes that he no longer enjoys his job, and after discussing it with his wife, and on the advice of the attending doctor, decides to go away from it all alone.

His wife sets him up with a villa owned by a relative on an island in the lagoon, where he intends to rest, row and read.  He rows with the caretaker, Davide Casati, whom he befriends.  Incidentally, Casati and Brunetti’s father won regatta years before.  All goes well until Casati is found drowned following a violent storm.

Brunetti then undertakes to investigate the circumstances of Casati’s death to determine whether it was an accident or suicide, despite his self-imposed sabbatical.  Along the way, the Commissario learns a lot about his friend, nature, and our failure to protect the environment, as well as the result of one’s actions during our lives.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2017.

Book Reviews: The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg, The Walnut Tree by Charles Todd, and Masaryk Station by David Downing

The HeistThe Heist
Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
Bantam, June 2013
ISBN: 978-0-345-54304-23
Hardcover

I found this novel to be superficial.  The press release accompanying it says, among other things, that it is filled with “popcorn thrills.” I find it doubtful that it would make a good movie or television episode.  Why it took two talented, best-selling authors to write it leads one to scratch his/her head in wonder.

It would appear that FBI Special Agent Kate O’Hare was created hopefully as another heroine like the popular Stephanie Plum character from another Evanovich series.  Not even close.  She is a shallow personality full of clichés, as is the novel itself.  The plot is simple (no pun intended):  Kate captures a con man, Nick Fox, only to see him released by her superiors to propagate a bigger con to capture a fugitive financier who stole $500,000 and is secreted on an Indonesian island. To make matters worse, Kate is partnered with Nick in an attempt to capture Fox, recover the money and return him to the United States for arrest.  Of course the whole operation, including the kidnapping, is illegal (but then is the FBI or the U.S. government free from such accusations?).

On a positive note, the writing is smooth and the reading is easy.  Enough said.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2013.

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The Walnut TreeThe Walnut Tree
Charles Todd
Morrow Paperbacks, October 2013
ISBN:  978-0-06-223687-6
Trade Paperback

A change of pace for this mother-son author team:  A love story, rather than a mystery.  But still set at the start of World War I, with insights into the British class system and the horrors of war. It is the story of Lady Elspeth Douglas, torn between the attractions of two men, duty, and the iron hand of her guardian stifling her independent nature.

Just before the outbreak of war, Elspeth is in Paris, at the behest of her pregnant friend who is awaiting the birth of her first child. After the baby’s birth and the German invasion, she attempts to return to England.  Along the way she voluntarily becomes involved in the hostilities, bringing water to the troops.  There she meets Captain Peter Gilchrist, setting up an emotional conflict with her fiancé, Alain, to whom she sort of became betrothed the night before he left to join the army.  When she gets back to England, she decides to become a nurse, and serves well in France, until her guardian decides that that is not an activity fit for a lady.

The Walnut Tree is an emotional tale from several points of view. And it is told without embellishment, simply and in a straightforward manner. And the writers couldn’t resist introducing a mystery, even if only in passing.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2013.

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Masaryk StationMasaryk Station
David Downing
Soho Crime, June 2013
ISBN: 978-1-616-95223-5
Hardcover

With this, the sixth novel in the John Russell series, David Downing brings to a finale the chronicle covering the years between the World Wars, those following the collapse of Nazi Germany.   It has been quite a journey, with Russell having served as a double agent for both the Soviets and Americans, certainly as dangerous as an existence can be.  Each of the novels reflected the times and the clashes of the ideological differences between the two countries.

In the final book, the story of a divided Germany and Berlin is recounted, ending with the seeds that were sown in the fall of the Soviet Empire.  At the same time, the personal conflicts that beset Russell and others who at first embraced and then questioned socialism are explored and analyzed.

Each entry in the series was well-crafted to not only tell a gripping story of our times, but to call to mind the era as portrayed by real-life characters.  It has been an excellently told saga.  (It is unfortunate that the latest volume suffers from poor production, editing and proofreading, riddled with typographical and grammatical errors.)  Next spring, we are promised a new series by the author moving back in time to World War I.

My parenthetical criticism notwithstanding, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2013.

Book Review: A Cold Touch of Ice by Michael Pearce

A Cold Touch of IceA Cold Touch of Ice
A Mamur Zapt Mystery
Michael Pearce
Poisoned Pen Press, July 2004
ISBN: 1-59058-065-6
Hardcover

Michael Pearce is an unqualified success, if you like good characterizations, an exotic locale and a satisfying mystery that illuminates real history from the early part of the twentieth century.

Gareth Owen is the head of the secret service in Egypt. He is called the Mamur Zapt. It is an interesting position, in that he works for the Khedive, the ruler of Egypt. But he is British, because at the time of the novel, 1912, Egypt is a British protectorate. The Brits are in no way about to allow Egyptian police free rein to poke about in private affairs. Owen is an interesting character, urbane, very focused on Cairo, and not much on things like the desert and rural Egypt. Well, he has enough to do, it seems, Cairo being a central gathering place for agents and counter-agents of every stripe.

It is 1912 and Lord Kitchener has come to Egypt to assume the ruling hand. There are many tensions in the air, because, although America was blissfully unaware , war clouds were gathering and already attempts are being made to implant a German nation inside the Egyptian government. The Turks are at war with the Italians, increasing the pressure and destabilizing the normal tensions of the place. Then an Italian businessman, a long-time resident of Cairo, is murdered. Normally such an event is not in the Mamur Zapt’s purvue, but he is naturally acquainted with the local government authorities. When it becomes likely that the fighting in Tripolitania is somehow related to the murder, Owen is drawn in. More complications arise of both a professional and personal nature.

There is a wedding, there are disagreements within and without Owen’s personal life and we are made privy to some eternal prejudices which affect Owen and his colleagues. Yet there are no polemics here. The author’s matter-of-fact straightforward style draws us in and maintains the interest and the tension without resorting to devices like car chases and shootouts.

Pearce is a master at bringing to vibrant life in subtle and direct ways the life of turbulent Cairo from its high governmental maneuverings to common, everyday events. In the intense heat and dust of the city and the important camel caravan oases, Owen walks a slow steady path to motive and resolution. This is a fine police procedural with many excellent nuances.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Reviews: Rutherford Park by Elizabeth Cooke, Jambalaya Justice by Holly Castillo, and “The President Has Been Shot” by James L. Swanson

Rutherford ParkRutherford Park
Elizabeth Cooke
Berkley Books, July 2013
ISBN 978-0-425-26258-0
Trade Paperback

Shades of everyone’s favorite, Downton Abbey, with a bit of Warhorse thrown in for seasoning. Not that this is a bad thing, since Rutherford Park will prove every bit as addictive as those two. A reader can’t help but become involved in the lives of characters great and small, highest society and lowest servant.

Timing for the story puts us on the cusp of World War One–the Great War. William Cavendish, owner of the massive Rutherford Park estate, is preoccupied with the politics of preventing a war. Octavia, his wife, whom he married nineteen years ago for her money, is stuck at home worrying not only about her children, but about William’s coldness toward her. It is in the midst of a snowy Christmas that Octavia sees her husband kissing another woman, rending her heart. Then her son denies the housemaid he’s gotten with child, and the girl dies. With the Cavendishs so divided, one wonders if the family can survive.

Aside from fortune hunting and matrimonial concerns, manners and the avoidance of scandal—although not always scandalous behavior—preoccupy the upper class. Secrets abound. However, their servants know everything, and in their way, class strictures are as hidebound for them as for their betters. What a world. What a fascinating world!

Excellently written, the prose flows smoothly, the settings scintillate, the history teaches without effort as the characters come alive.

Rutherford Park includes a reader’s guide, handy for book clubs.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2013.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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Jambalaya JusticeJambalaya Justice
Crescent City Mystery #2
Holly Castillo
Oak Tree Press, August 2011
ISBN 978-1-61009-020-9
Trade Paperback

The Big Easy heats up in Holly Castillo‘s latest mystery thriller. It’s a novel of the cops and the courts and it wouldn’t be New Orleans without some hot romance thrown into the mix. It’s undercover chills, bedroom thrills, and even a judge who insists on jokes in his courtroom. What else is included in Jambalaya Justice? Too much to list here and too much fun to spoil it.

Ryan Murphy, an assistant DA in New Orleans, involves herself in the death of a hooker, the latest in a serial killer’s string of victims. This while also dealing with other cases that include a trial of a slick fancy-dressing mobster, domestic abuse, and the robbery of a French Quarter strip club. Shep Chapetti, her boyfriend and an SID detective, is working the disappearance and apparent death of a prosecutor. One problem with the case is the supposed victim has a background that doesn’t add up but may have family ties to Murphy. The other problem is Shep is teamed up with an annoying ex-girlfriend, another attorney in the DA’s office.

The connections between the individuals in the cases and the characters would need a large chalkboard to figure out. I envy Castillo for keeping everything straight and by dishing out teasers. This kept me guessing and surprised by each revelation. Not everybody is who they claim to be, but you can believe this: Castillo brings a fantastic story to the forefront of mystery fiction. When it comes to writing about New Orleans, an author has to make it big and flashy and exciting. Castillo doesn’t disappoint and I’ll be keeping an eye out for her next novel.

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

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The President Has Been Shot“The President Has Been Shot!”
The Assassination of John F. Kennedy

James L. Swanson
Scholastic Press, October 2013
ISBN 0-545-49007-8
Hardcover

James L. Swanson is not a new author.  You may recognize his name from his New York Times bestseller The 12-Day Hunt for Lincoln’s Killer.

There are many, many things I like about this book.  The level of detail is amazing.  Rarely, are we treated to such a meticulous account in a non-fiction work.  I believe that these little nuggets of awesome play a large part in making this appealing to younger audiences.  Actually, this adult reader was genuinely surprised by some remarkably interesting points that I had not been aware of, despite learning about Kennedy in history classes.  Jackie slipping her wedding band into Jack’s hand when she realized that he was gone was one of the most endearing things ever.  The explanations as to why it appeared to viewers that Kennedy won the first televised debate, while the radio listeners felt that Nixon was the winner, were very intriguing.  I would be remiss; however, if I did not state that, while this level of detail was greatly appreciated throughout most of the book, the description of the impact and damage caused by Oswald’s bullet felt very gruesome, to me.  Anything less would have detracted from the integrity of the book, I realize and appreciate that; I just think it is worthy of mention for readers with a delicate stomach.

The brief history provided really allows the reader to know Jack Kennedy, the person.  The Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis and The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty were all very important events that no longer seem prominent in history classes today.  I appreciate the refreshers, and I am certain that young readers will welcome this knowledge.

Mr. Swanson painstakingly chose photographs to accompany this telling, again helping the reader to know and appreciate President and Jackie Kennedy.  Also included are diagrams of the motorcade and The Texas School Book Depository’s sixth floor.  Speculation and questions as to why Lee Harvey Oswald decided to assassinate the president are presented in thought-provoking way, rather than just laying out the facts as we know them.

This is a fascinating account of a 50 year old tragedy that we still do not understand.  I hope to see this book in many a Middle-School and High-School library, and I strongly recommend this to History teachers everywhere.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2013.