Book Review: Glass Houses by Louise Penny

Glass Houses
A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel #13
Louise Penny
Minotaur Books, August 2017
ISBN 978-0-2500-6619-0
Hardcover

From the publisher:  When a mysterious figure appears on the village green on a cold November day in Three Pines, Chief Inspector Gamache, who now resides there, knows something is wrong.  Yet since no laws are being broken, he does nothing.  But a shadow falls over Three Pines, and unease sets into the community.  Soon the figure disappears, and not long after, a body is discovered.  During the ensuing investigation and later, when a trial begins against the accused, Gamache considers the events he set into motion long ago, disastrous means to an uncertain end, and if there will be a reckoning.  “This case began in a higher court,” he says at his testimony.  “And it’s going to end there.”  And regardless of the trial’s outcome, Gamache understands that in the end, he will have to face his conscience.  A gripping and haunting mystery, “Glass Houses” explores what Gandhi called the court of conscience and asks us, when the chips are down, is there a court that supersedes all?

This is the 12th book in the series, all of which take place in and around the aforementioned Quebec village of Three Pines, variously described as lost, hidden in the hills, and not on any map or GPS, in the middle of nowhere, and a place where “getting lost was almost a prerequisite for finding the place.”   All the residents of the village are present, and the many fans of the series will welcome them: Gamache, former Chief Inspector of the Surete, a post now held by Isabella Lacoste, Gamache now the Superintendent, heading up the division that oversees Homicide and Serious Crimes; his wife, Reine-Marie; Myrna, a large black woman who runs a new and used bookstore and was once a prominent psychologist in Montreal [referred to by others in the novel as “a verbal speed bump”]; Ruth Zardo, an eccentric, award-winning and “demented old” poet, and Rosa, her beloved pet duck; Gabri and Olivier, the lovers who run the bistro and the B&B; Monsieur Beliveau, the grocer; Clara Morrow, an artist and portraitist; as well as Henri, Gamache’s German shepherd; Jean-Guy Beauvoir, second in command in the Surete [formerly Gamache’s second in command] and now married to his daughter; and Madeleine Toussaint, the first woman in charge of Serious Crimes and the first Haitian to head up any department. Three Pines, and its residents, remain as charming as ever.

Shortly after the book opens, a trial is about to begin, the defendant being accused of the above-mentioned murder, Gamache being a key witness, the judge one Maureen Corriveau, handling her first murder case, a murder which seemingly had no motive behind it.  The identity of the defendant is withheld from the reader until much later in the novel.  The villain in the piece, a figure known as “the cobrador,” is a fascinating creation, apparently with its origin in Spain, in fact a Spanish debt collector, who followed and shamed people into paying their debts.

There is much here that is timely, dealing as it does with issues of drug/opiod use/abuse [present in our newspapers on almost a daily basis], and political corruption, among other things of national importance today.  As always the writing is never less than elegant, and the book is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2017.

A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 2

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two…

 

All the Little Liars
An Aurora Teagarden Mystery #9
Charlaine Harris
Minotaur Books, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-09003-4
Hardcover

Charlaine Harris has to work really hard to make me not like any of her books and this one is no exception. Aurora Teagarden is her fluffiest series and I was SO excited when she brought it back with this book, 13 years after the last one.

Roe is a librarian—now married and pregnant—in a small town in Georgia and, as librarians are wont to do, falls over dead bodies on a regular basis. This time, a bunch of kids have gone missing and her teenaged brother is somehow involved. I enjoyed this story even though I thought it was just a little weak but I chalk it up to the difficulties of rebooting a series and fully expect the upcoming Sleep Like a Baby to be back on top.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Gizelle’s Bucket List
My Life with a Very Large Dog
Lauren Fern Watt
Simon & Schuster, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-5011-2365-8
Hardcover
Simon & Schuster Audio, March 2017
Narrated by Lauren Fern Watt
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

I both read and listened to this one and was glad I did because the audio edition added a strong connection between me and the author. This is a true story and, as you can guess from the title, it’s all about this wonderful dog’s last days. Get out a box of tissues because you’re going to need them. Yes, it’s terribly sad but also joyful and uplifting as Lauren helps Gizelle do the things she loves best and those Lauren is sure she’ll enjoy before it’s too late. The love and devotion between Lauren and Gizelle are as real as it gets and I appreciate the time I spent with them.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Smugglers & Scones
Moorehaven Mysteries, Book 1
Morgan C. Talbot
Red Adept Publishing, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-940215-87-7
Trade Paperback

Moorehaven is a bed and breakfast in Oregon that caters to crime fiction writers—what a great setting for murder and mayhem, right? Pippa Winterbourne, manager, gets pulled into the investigation when a local is killed and a boat mysteriously crashes on the rocks, leaving her to house an intriguing injured man who just might be guilty of murder. This is a delightful tale full of the history of coastal Oregon and a beautiful setting and featuring some very appealing folks. The setup with the B&B is unusual in that a trust is actually in charge so this is not the typical scenario in which the innkeeper has to scrimp and save to keep things going. That frees Pippa to do some sleuthing on her own while she rides herd on her crochety great-uncle and the current group of author guests. This is a clever, charming series debut and I’m looking forward to the next one, Burglars & Blintzes.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Still Life
A Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery #1
Louise Penny
Narrated by Ralph Cosham
Blackstone Audio, August 2006
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

When murder is done in a small town in the Quebec province, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is called in to investigate. Most of the villagers think it must have been a hunting accident but Gamache is quite sure something else is going on.

I’m hanging my head in shame, I think, because I’m apparently at odds with the mystery reading world. I’d always avoided this series ( now up to #13) for no particular reason other than I have a bit of distrust when everybody raves about the first book, then the second, the third… But, I finally started feeling kind of silly about it and bit the bullet and, well, I’m kind of underwhelmed. The narrator was quite good (I understand fans were devastated when he passed away a few years ago, after recording the tenth book) and the story was good but I just didn’t connect with it. Still, a gazillion readers can’t all be wrong so I’m going to try the second book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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The Introvert
Michael Paul Michaud
Black Opal Books, November 2016
ISBN 978-1-626945-47-0
Trade Paperback

He’s a vacuum salesman, a quiet individual, kind of a loner but only because solitude is usually easier. He’s Everyman. He also has moments of inner rage so intense he imagines the other person “red and open” but he’s perfectly normal. Right? Well, there was that incident a couple of years ago…

{{Shudder }}

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

 

Book Reviews: Body Line by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, Every Bitter Thing by Leighton Gage, The Caller by Karin Fossum, Murder New York Style ed. by Terrie Farley Moran, and A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

Body Line
Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Severn House, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7278-6957-9
Hardcover

The tone of the book, the newest in the wonderful Bill Slider series, is initially set with the very first line – in point of fact, the first chapter heading, “The Wrath of Grapes,” describing as it does a thoroughly hung over D.S. Jim Atherton, as he joins his boss, D.I Bill Slider, both of the Shepherd’s Bush police, for just another ‘day at the office,’ i.e., driving to a murder scene.  The day that is just starting is portrayed as follows, in typical lovely fashion: “Shepherd’s Bush was not beautiful, but it had something to be said for it on a bright, breezy March morning.  Clouds were running like tumbleweed across a sky of intense, saturated, heraldic azure.  The tall, bare planes on the Green swayed solemnly like folkies singing Kumbayah.  All around, the residents – young, old and middling – were sleeping, getting up, planning their day, thinking about work, school, sex, shopping, footie.  Some were perhaps dying.  One was dead in what the police called suspicious circumstances, and that, fortunately, was unusual.”

The reader is thereby immediately put into a smiling and receptive mood, the grim destination notwithstanding:  When they arrive at the scene, they discover the body of a man very efficiently murdered, with a single gunshot at close range to the back of the head.  As the investigation ensues, there are no suspects, no forensics, no obvious motive, and the fact that they cannot find any information as to where the dead man worked or as to the source of his apparently substantial income, only makes matters more puzzling.  The police are told he was “a doctor,” “a consultant,” but beyond that there is no information. As Slider says, “it’s astonishing what people don’t see and hear, even when it’s under their eyes and ears.”

The second chapter is headed “Witless for the Prosecution,” but that’s about it for play-on-words – – well, no scratch that, for of course Superintendent Porson, Slider and Atherton’s boss, is present in this book, and malapropisms abound, always guaranteed to bring back that smile.  Various permutations of relationships between and among the several well-drawn characters become clear as the investigation
continues.  The novel is immensely enjoyable in this well-written murder mystery [there are other deaths as the tale continues], and it is as highly recommended as were the previous books in the series.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, July 2011.

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Every Bitter Thing
Leighton Gage
Soho Crime, October 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56947-998-8
Trade Paperback

On the opening page of Leighton Gage’s newest book, the fourth in his series featuring the Brazilian Chief Inspector Mario Silva, the reader is introduced to Jonas Palhares, a petroleum engineer who is very soon after brutally murdered in his Ipanema apartment.  This is but one of several murders committed in the same manner, and with the same weapons.  A famous social psychologist is soon found dead in Sao Paulo State.  But when the next victim is the son of the Venezuelan foreign minister and former ambassador to Brazil, the political implications become quickly obvious, and the investigation goes into high gear.

Silva, chief inspector for criminal matters with the Federal Police, is described as “a repository of totally useless information,” but self-described as possessing “occasionally amazing instances of insight”.  He teams up with the head of the Brasilia civil police, as well as his usual team members, including Arnaldo Nunes and Haraldo “Babyface” Goncalves, known as the Federal Police’s Lothario.  The body count rises, and the cops are frustrated by the fact that there seems to be no common denominator among the victims.

The author provides another glimpse into a world and a country with which this reader and I suspect many others are unfamiliar [despite my having traveled there twice, but I’m pretty sure tourism doesn’t count].  We are given examples of  “. . . how things work in this country . . . how the rich and powerful get justice and the rest of us can go to hell.”  The investigation proceeds rapidly to try to find the killer before more bodies appear, and the ending is as logical as it is startling.  A thoroughly satisfying novel, and recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2011.

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The Caller
Karin Fossum
Translated by Kyle Semmel
Harvill Secker, August 2011
ISBN: 978-1-846-55393-6
Paperback

[This book is presently only available in/through the UK/Canada, not yet available in the US]

Lucy thought she had everything a woman could want [and who could disagree?]: youth, beauty, health, a loving husband, and a baby girl they both doted upon.  Until the warm summer day when evil is suddenly visited upon her perfect life in the form of an unknown monster, for when Lily approaches the pram under the maple tree outside their house where the baby had lain sleeping, she discovers that the baby is covered in blood.  In their terror and panic, they rush to the hospital, where they are soon told that the baby is unharmed, that the blood was not hers, and that the police have been called.  The Inspectors assigned to the case are Konrad Sejer and Jacob Skarre.  Later that same night, a postcard is delivered to Sejer’s door reading “Hell begins now.”

Happy people content with their lives, suddenly made anxious, unable any longer to feel secure, as “a soundless form of terror” and utter vulnerability spreads through the community.  That is the story line of this newest in the Inspector Sejer Mysteries. And a gripping, albeit somewhat depressing, tale it is, with a perpetrator who fancies himself as invincible, with unimaginable cruelty and an almost equally twisted quirk:  He needs to see for himself the effects of his pranks:  “Everyone lives on an edge, he thought, and I will push them over.”

The writing is wonderful, as one has come to expect of this author.  She describes Sejer’s dog as follows:  “a Chinese Shar Pei called Frank, lay at his feet, and was, like most Chinese, dignified, unapproachable and patient.  Frank had tiny, closed ears – and thus bad hearing – and a mass of grey, wrinkled skin that made him look like a chamois cloth,” and someone’s “cat [which] slept in a corner, fat and striped like a mackerel.”  The humans are just as well-drawn.  Widowed at a young age, Sejer is now feeling the frailty of impending old age, and along with him the reader feels a palpable sense of inescapable mortality, as well as “what was raw and brutal in the heart of every living creature.”  A disturbing but ultimately thoroughly enjoyable novel, very fast reading, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2011.

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Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices
Terrie Farley Moran, Editor
L&L Dreamspell, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-60318-423-6
Trade Paperback

Although short stories are not usually my preferred reading choice, this anthology proved to be perfect for this time of year, when so many of us are overloaded with the demands and hecticness of the holiday season, and ready for short bursts of good writing.  A group of twenty-two authors, some whose work is published here for the first time and others who are award-nominated or award-winning writers, combined for this mixture of genres and the second such anthology written by members of the Sisters in Crime NY/Tri-State Chapter, the unifying theme being the various neighborhoods in and around New York City.  Those encompass such diverse areas as Gerritsen Beach in Brooklyn and its neighbor, Brighton Beach; Greenwich Village; downtown Manhattan; and College Point, Queens, among several other sections and towns in what is known as the “greater metropolitan area.”

There is one lone entry authored by a man [k.j.a. (Kenneth) Wishnia]. I had initially thought – mistakenly – that there was only one with a male protagonist, but then realized that over a third of the stories have male narrators/protagonists.  Lest any reader be concerned that the points- of-view might feel monolithic, they not only range in age and class, but also in gender, even including one inanimate-object as narrator for people who want variety from the usual human POV   The tales run from eight to twenty pages in length, and vary widely, though each is worthwhile reading, dealing with characters ranging from a vampire; a widow whose long-buried secret is about to be exposed; a young woman with a scary stepson, in what is perhaps a cliché in reverse; and although most of the protagonists are fairly young, there are an 84-year-old and two centenarians included.  I especially enjoyed Catherine Maiorisi’s first published story, “Justice for All,” of a young African-American detective, Cappy Jones, who draws the short straw in partnering up with a misogynistic male cop in an investigation into the death of a young Asian woman on a path adjacent to the Hudson River; Triss Stein’s “The Greenmarket Violinist,” included in which is a tribute to a place dear to this reader’s heart: “a spot sacred to all true Brooklynites . . . the original home of the team that became the Brooklyn Dodgers and was managed by the original Mr. Ebbets himself;” as well as Liz Zelvin’s miniature addition to her wonderful “Death Will . . . “ series, this one entitled “Death Will Tank Your Fish,” not, from the title, obviously dealing with recovering alcoholics, but which turns out to be just that.

All in all, these short stories provide very enjoyable reading, and the anthology is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2012.

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A Trick of the Light
Louise Penny
Minotaur Books, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-65545-7
Hardcover

As with Miss Marple, or the folks who live in the environs of the protagonist in “Murder She Wrote,” and as a couple of the residents of Three Pines say, “there must be something in the water,” almost “a cottage industry.”  And to quote the author, “this little village produced bodies and gourmet meals in equal proportion.”  For shortly after Louise Penny’s newest Chief Inspector Gamache book opens, a celebratory party held in that bucolic Quebec village just south of Montreal is dampened when a dead body is found in the garden of the hosts, Clara and Peter Morrow, with her neck broken.  A decidedly personal manner of death, all agree.   The dead woman, Lillian Dyson, was Clara’s BFF [before there was such a term] many decades earlier, their friendship coming to a shattering end when Dyson’s treachery became known, and it had been years since they had had any contact. The party itself followed a vernissage, a private solo showing of the artist’s work at the Musee d’Art Contemporain in Montreal, a dream come true for Clara.

Armand Gamache, the deceptively mild-mannered head of homicide for the famed Surete du Quebec, and his second in command, Jean Guy Beauvoir, are investigating the murder, not the first time they had come to Three Pines on such a mission.  As Gamache says, “Why not just move the whole homicide department down here?”  [In jest, almost certainly.]  Jean Guy, with his unspoken love for Gamache’s daughter [who is, after all, married], is still recovering, mentally as well as physically, from a horrific incident six months prior, as is Gamache himself.  [Although not essential, I’d recommend first reading the prior book in the series, Bury Your Dead, as to the events and the repercussions thereof which ended that book.]

The inhabitants of Three Pines [a village so small it doesn’t even show up on a map] who have been introduced to readers of the earlier books are still present, including Ruth  “the demented old poet;” Gabriel and Olivier, the gay owners of the local B&B; Myrna, the bookstore owner; and assorted horses, including one that looks like a moose.  There is also an interesting sub-plot on the subject of AA. The dominant theme is “do people change,” and there are many examples of the possibilities, as well as the need, for such change, with varying degrees of success.  The book describes the rivalries, egos, politics and backbiting that exist in the art world, as well as a good mystery.  It is a true pleasure to read, well deserving of its recent nomination for the Agatha Award for  Best Novel of 2011, and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2012.

Book Reviews–And Now It’s Gloria Feit’s Turn

So Cold the River
Michael Koryta
Back Bay Books, 2011
ISBN: 9780316053648
Trade Paperback

Michael Koryta‘s latest novel* starts out innocently enough.  Eric Shaw, in his recent former life an LA cinematographer before that career crashed and burned and now in his early thirties, has for the past two years lived in Chicago, trying to make a living filming memorial videos for presentation at funerals.  He is approached by a beautiful young woman who asks him to prepare such a video in honor of her father-in-law, a famously reclusive billionaire, ninety-five years old and near death in a hospital.  She offers Eric a very generous amount of money to travel to Southern Indiana to trace his early years in furtherance of the project.  The only artifact of her father-in-law which she can provide is a small flask of water which derived from underground mineral springs, now apparently defunct, and known as Pluto Water, which had been touted as having nearly miraculous healing powers.

Before leaving, Eric visits the old man in the hospital.  Initially unresponsive, the first intimations of what is to come occur when what Eric sees through the viewfinder of his camera are not what his eyes had just seen, but instead the essence of that on which, or who, they focused. Enigmatically, the old man says to Eric, “so cold the river.” Or does he?

Eric goes to the town in question, West Baden Springs, and finds himself unable to resist tasting the water from the strange little bottle he has been given.  The results are immediate, chaotic, and nearly addictive, and his life, and the book, goes off in strange, surreal directions.  In the aftermath Eric, who has a history of psychic tendencies, has visions, encounters dead people, and sees scenes from the past apparently reenacted before his eyes.

Throughout, there are ominous signs of an impending storm of perhaps historical proportions.

Somewhat daunted by the book’s sizeable heft, and by my usual aversion to most things Gothic or which invoke the supernatural, I nonetheless
found the pages turning rapidly, completely swept up in the tale the author has spun, so masterful is the writing, and I recommend it highly as another terrific book by Michael Koryta.

*Actually, his next novel, “The Cypress House,” was released on January 24, 2011.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.

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Bury Your Dead
Louise Penny
Minotaur Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-37704-5
Hardcover

The book takes place in and around Quebec City, Canada, where the dwindling Anglophone community feels it is still fighting wars 250 years in the past.  One which the English had won, “securing Quebec for the English, on paper,” but not so in actuality.  Even beyond the strong separatist feelings, there is a great deal of animosity between the two cultures [Francophones being the other], down to the refusal of most of its citizens to learn the language of the other.  As the Quebecois say, “je me souviens,” I remember.  We are told that “not everything buried is actually dead. For many, the past is alive.”

The plot deals with two present-day murders, and the author teases the reader by alternating the chapters between the two investigations – indeed, three, as there is another involving deeds, and a dead body, from over a century ago.  A great deal of fascinating history is provided, regarding events of which I do not hesitate to admit that I [and I suspect many other non-Canadians] was unaware.

Inspector Gamache, “head of the most prestigious homicide unit in Canada, the Surete du Quebec,” returns in his sixth appearance.  This time around he is literally and figuratively scarred and haunted by recent events, a deadly incident involving the murder of one Surete officer and the kidnapping of another, pitting Gamache up against his superior officer who refuses to consider a scenario other than the one which he perceives to be the correct one in order to try to rescue their endangered colleague.   Now on leave, and haunted by the tragic outcome of the incident, Gamache is told by a trusted mentor that everything will heal, “avec le temps,” with time.

Gamache is described as “a man who preferred good books and long walks to any other activity.”  He also has a strong sense of justice, and feels duty bound to take another look at the case which was at the center of The Brutal Telling, the prior entry in the series, the murder of a hermit in the charming village of Three Pines, despite the fact that the man he had arrested for the murder was convicted and is presently serving his sentence.

The pace of the novel is a leisurely one, and although I could not figure out why I found it so slow-moving, I must say it gave me that much greater an opportunity to enjoy the charming prose.  The three prongs of the tale are all deftly and satisfyingly resolved, and Inspector Gamache is once more shown to be a clever and very human police officer.  Very enjoyable, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.

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Rogue Island
Bruce DeSilva
Forge, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2726-0
Hardcover

According to the author’s introductory words to this novel, he received a note in 1994 about a story he had written for the newspaper where he worked as a reporter in Providence, Rhode Island, suggesting that it could serve as the outline for a novel.  He did begin to write such a book, only to put it aside because of personal problems.  The note was from Evan Hunter (Ed McBain).  A couple of years ago, the author met Otto Penzler who, when he learned about the note, said: “Evan never had a good thing to say about anything anyone else wrote . . .  you’ve got to finish that novel.”

And we can all thank Otto Penzler and the late Evan Hunter for their encouragement.  This debut novel merits their praise, and then some. It is witty, well-paced, entertaining, cynical, and worthy of its nomination for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

Liam Mulligan is a wise-cracking investigative reporter for a Providence daily, who closely pursues a story on a series of fires in a small neighborhood that turn out to be cases of arson, resulting not only in destruction of property but fatalities.  It is up to Mulligan to uncover not only the schemes behind these crimes, but the corruption endemic to the State of Rhode Island, and specifically its capital, giving rise to the title of the novel.  No more about the plot, because you have to read the book.  And enjoy.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.

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Beat
Stephen Jay Schwartz
Forge, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2295-1
Trade Paperback

This, it should be stated, is not an easy book to read.  It is, at the same time, completely compelling and nearly impossible to put down. An anomaly, it would seem.

The protagonist, LA Robbery-Homicide detective Hayden Glass, is many things:   unpredictable, often exhibiting self-destructive behavior [if not actually harboring a death wish], fiendish impulses and extreme violence.  It is sex-filled, as befits a tale whose protag is a sex addict.  He has even named his dark side – his inner addict – Rufus, putting one in mind of Dexter’s Dark Passenger.

Glass’ recent history is daunting:  He has received the Medal of Valor and then, off the record, ordered into a six-month medical leave with psychiatric care, talk therapy, and mandatory attendance at meetings for Sex Addicts Anonymous, a 12-step program similar to other such groups.  His addiction has also caused the end of his marriage.  On medical leave for two months as the book opens, Glass finds himself in San Francisco and obviously out of his jurisdiction.  He is soon stepping on the toes of both the SFPD and the FBI as he searches for a girl by whom he is obsessed, a young prostitute apparently in the clutches of two different factions of the Russian mob.  Police corruption soon becomes evident, and he doesn’t know who he can trust, and at first only succeeds in further endangering the girl.

Detective Glass made his first appearance in Boulevard, which I have not yet read.  Since I assume it may be several months until a follow-up novel appears, I think I’ll need to get my next dose of Mr. Schwartz’ fiction well before that.  It would seem that it’s very easy to fall prey to an addiction.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.

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Gone
Mo Hayder
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1964-3
Hardcover

DI Jack Caffery, an 18-year-veteran of the Murder Squad and presently head of Bristol’s Major Crime Investigation Unit, returns at a point six months after the events described in the author’s last novel, Skin. As the book opens, on a cold November night, Caffery is called to the scene of a carjacking in an underground car park, something one would not consider a case for the MCIU until it becomes known that an 11-year-old girl was in the car when it was taken.

Caffery puts a team together:  DC Prody, just coming off four years as a traffic cop; DS Paluzzi [nicknamed “Lollapalooza”], DS Turner, and at some point Phoebe [“Flea”] Marley, now a support-group sergeant who also runs the Underwater Search Unit.  [“She’d got her dumb nickname as a child because people told her she never looked before she leaped.  And because of her irritating, incurable energy.”]  There are secrets in both Caffery’s and Flea’s lives that play in the back of their thoughts, coincidentally both involving siblings; children at risk are also a large part of the plot.  The investigation takes a different turn when Flea tells Caffery there have been two other incidents closely following the same pattern, and they realize this was not just a random act.

The characters are very well-drawn and intriguing, especially Flea, who remembers her father telling her as a child “We don’t give up in this family.  It’s against the Marley code.  Ancient belief system.  Bad things happen when you do – – it’s like flying in the face of nature.”  And that persistent nature is a good part of what makes her such a terrific cop, and fascinating individual.

The reader is kept rapt for more or less the first half of the book just by the mystery of the identity of the hijacker, and what he may have done to the child [shudder].  Then there is a sudden shift in intensity, as the plot takes unexpected and quite startling twists and turns, and from that point on I could not put the book down till its conclusion, breath held a good part of the way there.  [I should add that my vocabulary has been enlarged by the terms “elasticated,” lumpenly,” and “forensicated,” which may just be a matter of Brit-speak.]

Happily, the final few pages hint of a return of Caffery and Flea, and one can only hope it will be soon.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2011.

Book Reviews–And Now It's Gloria Feit's Turn

So Cold the River
Michael Koryta
Back Bay Books, 2011
ISBN: 9780316053648
Trade Paperback

Michael Koryta‘s latest novel* starts out innocently enough.  Eric Shaw, in his recent former life an LA cinematographer before that career crashed and burned and now in his early thirties, has for the past two years lived in Chicago, trying to make a living filming memorial videos for presentation at funerals.  He is approached by a beautiful young woman who asks him to prepare such a video in honor of her father-in-law, a famously reclusive billionaire, ninety-five years old and near death in a hospital.  She offers Eric a very generous amount of money to travel to Southern Indiana to trace his early years in furtherance of the project.  The only artifact of her father-in-law which she can provide is a small flask of water which derived from underground mineral springs, now apparently defunct, and known as Pluto Water, which had been touted as having nearly miraculous healing powers.

Before leaving, Eric visits the old man in the hospital.  Initially unresponsive, the first intimations of what is to come occur when what Eric sees through the viewfinder of his camera are not what his eyes had just seen, but instead the essence of that on which, or who, they focused. Enigmatically, the old man says to Eric, “so cold the river.” Or does he?

Eric goes to the town in question, West Baden Springs, and finds himself unable to resist tasting the water from the strange little bottle he has been given.  The results are immediate, chaotic, and nearly addictive, and his life, and the book, goes off in strange, surreal directions.  In the aftermath Eric, who has a history of psychic tendencies, has visions, encounters dead people, and sees scenes from the past apparently reenacted before his eyes.

Throughout, there are ominous signs of an impending storm of perhaps historical proportions.

Somewhat daunted by the book’s sizeable heft, and by my usual aversion to most things Gothic or which invoke the supernatural, I nonetheless
found the pages turning rapidly, completely swept up in the tale the author has spun, so masterful is the writing, and I recommend it highly as another terrific book by Michael Koryta.

*Actually, his next novel, “The Cypress House,” was released on January 24, 2011.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.

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Bury Your Dead
Louise Penny
Minotaur Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-37704-5
Hardcover

The book takes place in and around Quebec City, Canada, where the dwindling Anglophone community feels it is still fighting wars 250 years in the past.  One which the English had won, “securing Quebec for the English, on paper,” but not so in actuality.  Even beyond the strong separatist feelings, there is a great deal of animosity between the two cultures [Francophones being the other], down to the refusal of most of its citizens to learn the language of the other.  As the Quebecois say, “je me souviens,” I remember.  We are told that “not everything buried is actually dead. For many, the past is alive.”

The plot deals with two present-day murders, and the author teases the reader by alternating the chapters between the two investigations – indeed, three, as there is another involving deeds, and a dead body, from over a century ago.  A great deal of fascinating history is provided, regarding events of which I do not hesitate to admit that I [and I suspect many other non-Canadians] was unaware.

Inspector Gamache, “head of the most prestigious homicide unit in Canada, the Surete du Quebec,” returns in his sixth appearance.  This time around he is literally and figuratively scarred and haunted by recent events, a deadly incident involving the murder of one Surete officer and the kidnapping of another, pitting Gamache up against his superior officer who refuses to consider a scenario other than the one which he perceives to be the correct one in order to try to rescue their endangered colleague.   Now on leave, and haunted by the tragic outcome of the incident, Gamache is told by a trusted mentor that everything will heal, “avec le temps,” with time.

Gamache is described as “a man who preferred good books and long walks to any other activity.”  He also has a strong sense of justice, and feels duty bound to take another look at the case which was at the center of The Brutal Telling, the prior entry in the series, the murder of a hermit in the charming village of Three Pines, despite the fact that the man he had arrested for the murder was convicted and is presently serving his sentence.

The pace of the novel is a leisurely one, and although I could not figure out why I found it so slow-moving, I must say it gave me that much greater an opportunity to enjoy the charming prose.  The three prongs of the tale are all deftly and satisfyingly resolved, and Inspector Gamache is once more shown to be a clever and very human police officer.  Very enjoyable, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.

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Rogue Island
Bruce DeSilva
Forge, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2726-0
Hardcover

According to the author’s introductory words to this novel, he received a note in 1994 about a story he had written for the newspaper where he worked as a reporter in Providence, Rhode Island, suggesting that it could serve as the outline for a novel.  He did begin to write such a book, only to put it aside because of personal problems.  The note was from Evan Hunter (Ed McBain).  A couple of years ago, the author met Otto Penzler who, when he learned about the note, said: “Evan never had a good thing to say about anything anyone else wrote . . .  you’ve got to finish that novel.”

And we can all thank Otto Penzler and the late Evan Hunter for their encouragement.  This debut novel merits their praise, and then some. It is witty, well-paced, entertaining, cynical, and worthy of its nomination for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

Liam Mulligan is a wise-cracking investigative reporter for a Providence daily, who closely pursues a story on a series of fires in a small neighborhood that turn out to be cases of arson, resulting not only in destruction of property but fatalities.  It is up to Mulligan to uncover not only the schemes behind these crimes, but the corruption endemic to the State of Rhode Island, and specifically its capital, giving rise to the title of the novel.  No more about the plot, because you have to read the book.  And enjoy.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.

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Beat
Stephen Jay Schwartz
Forge, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2295-1
Trade Paperback

This, it should be stated, is not an easy book to read.  It is, at the same time, completely compelling and nearly impossible to put down. An anomaly, it would seem.

The protagonist, LA Robbery-Homicide detective Hayden Glass, is many things:   unpredictable, often exhibiting self-destructive behavior [if not actually harboring a death wish], fiendish impulses and extreme violence.  It is sex-filled, as befits a tale whose protag is a sex addict.  He has even named his dark side – his inner addict – Rufus, putting one in mind of Dexter’s Dark Passenger.

Glass’ recent history is daunting:  He has received the Medal of Valor and then, off the record, ordered into a six-month medical leave with psychiatric care, talk therapy, and mandatory attendance at meetings for Sex Addicts Anonymous, a 12-step program similar to other such groups.  His addiction has also caused the end of his marriage.  On medical leave for two months as the book opens, Glass finds himself in San Francisco and obviously out of his jurisdiction.  He is soon stepping on the toes of both the SFPD and the FBI as he searches for a girl by whom he is obsessed, a young prostitute apparently in the clutches of two different factions of the Russian mob.  Police corruption soon becomes evident, and he doesn’t know who he can trust, and at first only succeeds in further endangering the girl.

Detective Glass made his first appearance in Boulevard, which I have not yet read.  Since I assume it may be several months until a follow-up novel appears, I think I’ll need to get my next dose of Mr. Schwartz’ fiction well before that.  It would seem that it’s very easy to fall prey to an addiction.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.

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Gone
Mo Hayder
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1964-3
Hardcover

DI Jack Caffery, an 18-year-veteran of the Murder Squad and presently head of Bristol’s Major Crime Investigation Unit, returns at a point six months after the events described in the author’s last novel, Skin. As the book opens, on a cold November night, Caffery is called to the scene of a carjacking in an underground car park, something one would not consider a case for the MCIU until it becomes known that an 11-year-old girl was in the car when it was taken.

Caffery puts a team together:  DC Prody, just coming off four years as a traffic cop; DS Paluzzi [nicknamed “Lollapalooza”], DS Turner, and at some point Phoebe [“Flea”] Marley, now a support-group sergeant who also runs the Underwater Search Unit.  [“She’d got her dumb nickname as a child because people told her she never looked before she leaped.  And because of her irritating, incurable energy.”]  There are secrets in both Caffery’s and Flea’s lives that play in the back of their thoughts, coincidentally both involving siblings; children at risk are also a large part of the plot.  The investigation takes a different turn when Flea tells Caffery there have been two other incidents closely following the same pattern, and they realize this was not just a random act.

The characters are very well-drawn and intriguing, especially Flea, who remembers her father telling her as a child “We don’t give up in this family.  It’s against the Marley code.  Ancient belief system.  Bad things happen when you do – – it’s like flying in the face of nature.”  And that persistent nature is a good part of what makes her such a terrific cop, and fascinating individual.

The reader is kept rapt for more or less the first half of the book just by the mystery of the identity of the hijacker, and what he may have done to the child [shudder].  Then there is a sudden shift in intensity, as the plot takes unexpected and quite startling twists and turns, and from that point on I could not put the book down till its conclusion, breath held a good part of the way there.  [I should add that my vocabulary has been enlarged by the terms “elasticated,” lumpenly,” and “forensicated,” which may just be a matter of Brit-speak.]

Happily, the final few pages hint of a return of Caffery and Flea, and one can only hope it will be soon.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2011.

Book Review: Spider Bones by Kathy Reichs

Spider Bones
Kathy Reichs
Scribner, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4391-0239-8
Hardcover

Temperance Brennan, as most readers already know [if not from her books, then from the very popular TV show “Bones,” based on those same books], is usually based in North Carolina.  This latest entry in the series opens with the forensic anthropologist in Quebec, in early May, with her former boyfriend, Lt. Detective Andrew Ryan of homicide,
working on what she describes as “the decomposed, mummified, mutilated, dismembered, and skeletal for the province, helping the coroner with identification, cause of death, and postmortem interval.” When the body of a man is found in a local pond, a fingerprint match is promptly made.  Good news, one would think – except that the match
is to a man who apparently died forty years ago, in Vietnam.  The ensuing investigation takes Brennan and Ryan to Hawaii to try to determine how the same man could be dead in two places.

The reader is provided with a fascinating look at the facility in Hawaii where ongoing work has been carried on for decades to identify bodies from as far back as WWII, as well as SE Asia and the current ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Over 1,400 military personnel have been returned to their families to date, an amazing number.  The
author herself served as an external consultant there, and her expertise is evident.

Brennan’s personal life comes into play, of course, e.g., her daughter, Katy, coming out of a ‘recent fascination with a
thirty-two-year-old drummer named Smooth,’ her renewed relationship with Ryan and his with his daughter, Lily, 19 years old and recently out of rehab.

Other bodies are uncovered, and evidence found as to the identity of each, as well as the one in Montreal, only gets more and more confusing.  I have to admit that after a while I got glassy-eyed trying to keep the various possibilities straight.  Confusion reigns, for the book’s characters and the reader as well.  I found the novel often slow going, although the pace quickens as the conclusion nears. In any event, and despite those things, overall this was an
interesting and entertaining read.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2010.