Book Review: A Song for the Dark Times by Ian Rankin @Beathhigh @orionbooks @littlebrown

A Song for the Dark Times
An Inspector Rebus Novel #23
Ian Rankin
Orion Books, October 2020 (UK)
ISBN 978-1-4091-7697-8
Little, Brown and Company, October 2020 (US)
Hardcover

Retired Detective John Rebus has just moved one floor down into the ground floor flat in Edinburgh where he’s lived for a number of years.  He has COPD and stairs had become a problem. Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke, his friend and once his partner in solving crimes, has been helping him move.

Leaving Rebus to unpack,  Siobhan returns to the Leith Police Station to rejoin the Major Incident Team currently working on the murder of a young, rich, Saudi named Salman bin Mahmoud, who was stabbed to death in what might be a hate crime.

Meantime Rebus gets a call from his daughter Samantha, now living in Tongue, 250miles to the north, with her partner Keith and daughter Carrie. Keith has gone missing and Samantha is at her wit’s end. Rebus immediately abandons his unpacking and hops in his car, heading to Tongue.  Sam and Rebus aren’t exactly close due to the fact that during her early years Rebus spent more time cracking cases and catching killers than spending time with his wife and daughter.  Now he sees this as an opportunity to get closer to his daughter and granddaughter.

On his arrival Rebus is met by Detective Sergeant Creasey who is in charge of the missing person case, and who is quick to let Rebus know he won’t tolerate interference.  When Samantha tells her father she’d had a fight with Keith before he disappeared adding that they’d recently been going through a rough patch, Rebus is prepared to do everything he can to track down Keith.  But Sam is fearful her father will only make matters worse.  And when Keith’s body is found, Samantha becomes the prime suspect.

Determined to prove his daughter’s innocence Rebus talks to a group of the locals Keith had become involved with on discovering that a POW camp was once located in the area. Keith had been interviewing several members who had been prisoners at the time and who had opted to stay around once the war was over.

When Rebus gets a call from Siobhan he asks how her murder case is proceeding and learns there might be a connection between the death of the Saudi man and Lord Strathy aka Ramsey Meiklejohn a landowner in Tongue.  Intrigued, Rebus turns his attention to the landowner paying a visit to his stately home.  Lord Strathy isn’t in residence, but when Rebus tries to question the housekeeper,  he’s quickly shown the door, leaving him to wonder if he’s found a fresh trail to follow in search of Keith’s killer.

All is not what it seems in the town of Tongue, and Rebus has his hands full as he pokes into the past to uncover the truth.

I very much enjoyed following Rebus on his latest outing…

Check this one out.… You won’t be disappointed.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, November 2020.

Book Review: Flesh and Blood by John Harvey

Flesh and Blood
A Frank Elder Mystery #1
John Harvey
Otto Penzler Books
ISBN 978-0-15-603181-7
Trade Paperback

Frank Elder is a retired Detective Inspector and separated from his wife and sixteen-year-old daughter. He had a successful thirty-year career in the Nottinghamshire police force. Elder is retired and living alone with his nightmares in a small cottage on the Cornish coast. Now he’s waiting for a reunion of sorts with his daughter, Katherine.

Shortly after their reunion and her return to Nottingham, Elder is notified that the young perpetrator in one of his more lurid cases, Shane Donald, is being paroled. Donald spent seventeen years in prison for the abduction, rape and murder of a young woman about Katherine’s age.

The setup for the novel carefully establishes the detective, Elder, and those around him, the environment, down to daily clothing and meals, and many of the future characters in this long and thoughtful story.

The rich narrative travels through dozens of small towns as Elder is drawn into another missing girl case as a consultant. Author Harvey gradually develops a second plot, married to the first in clever ways, which draws readers ever deeper into a morass of depravity and murder.

Although the pace is slower than many readers of this kind of crime novel are used to, the measured raising of tension, questions floated and sometimes answered, the gradual reveal of links through logic and careful police work is mesmerizing. Gritty, direct and modern, this British crime novel is, in a word, excellent.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: A Midsummer’s Equation by Keigo Higashino

A Midsummer’s Equation
A Detective Galileo Mystery #3
Keigo Higashino
Minotaur Books, February 2016
ISBN 978-0-2500-2792-4
Hardcover

In The Devotion of Suspect X, the author created not only a first-class, original crime novel, but a singular character: a physicist, Manabu Yukawa, dubbed Dr. Galileo, who turned out to be an excellent amateur detective.  In this sequel, he applies the same scientific logic in helping to solve a murder, although the police believed the death to be an accident.

The new novel is a twisted tale full of unexpected turns in the plot.  It begins with the visit of a fifth-grade young man to a seaside resort on the Japanese coast, to a dilapidated inn run by his uncle and aunt, where he befriends Yukawa, who takes him under his wing, teaching the boy about various scientific principles and helping him with his homework. At the same inn a retired Tokyo homicide detective checks in and is soon discovered dead, presumably after a fall onto rocks lining the coast.

The story is far from a simple murder mystery and has its roots in the past.  The plot is full of surprises.  As was its predecessor, A Midsummer’s Equation is distinguished not only by the scientific content as applied to the case, but the moralistic conclusions as well.  Once again Higashino has written a clever tale that is deep and satisfying, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2017.

Book Review: Hard Latitudes by Baron R. Birtcher

Hard LatitudesHard Latitudes
Mike Tavis #4
Baron R. Birtcher
Permanent Press, May 2015
ISBN: 978-1-57962-390-6
Hardcover

The fourth entry on the Mike Travis series is just as good as the earlier books, and that is high praise indeed.  The novel begins with the protagonist looking back at incidents that began eleven years prior, and an intricate and fascinating tale it is.  It starts in Macau in 1994, with an act of violence whose repercussions are felt in different far-flung parts of the world and do not, initially, involve Mike in any way.

Mike, 6’2” and a retired LAPD homicide detective, since leaving LA has been living in Hawaii, where he runs a chartering service for private scuba and luxury cruises out of Kona, on his 72’ sailing yacht, the Kehau, after running a similar operation off the Southern California coast.  Mike is the son of a very wealthy man, which he tries to forget, mostly with success, nor make others aware of it.  When his brother, heavily involved in the family business, calls from LA and tells Mike that his “indiscretions” have come back to haunt him in a big – and very public – – way, Mike makes immediate arrangements to return to LA to help him out (making his relationship with his significant other, Lani, even more problematical).

Along the way the author reflects on the history of both South Central LA in late April 1992, during the time of the riots, when he was still on the police force, as well as descriptions of the natural beauty of Hawaii, about which he says, e.g., “Twilight is my favorite time of day to walk the Kona waterfront.  The flickering lights of the village begin to cycle on, piercing the encroaching darkness, the heat of the day leeching from the concrete and up through the soles of your sandals while cool wind drifts in off the water.”  He pays tribute to LA as well, describing the sunrise as presenting a sky that is “a purple so deep that it appeared to bruise the sky.”  At the same time, he also says “Every time I come back to this town, it slithers back inside me.  I had never intended to be a cynic, never imagined I would feel such contempt, and especially had never wanted to lose hope.  I wanted to believe in greater things, like grace, like justice, like integrity; I wanted to believe in heroes or a higher purpose.”

The narrative is interspersed from time to time with the events set into motion in Macau over a decade ago.

Mike’s efforts on behalf of his brother as a “reluctant pi” have repercussions that place both him and his brother in jeopardy, as well as Mike’s former partner on the LAPD, Hans Yamaguchi, who assists him in his efforts, which have unexpected and serious consequences.  In addition to this story line, this is a tale of sexual slavery and human trafficking, not for the faint of heart I might add, with fairly frequent violence (happily, for the most part not graphic.)  It is a gripping story, beautifully written, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2016.

Reviews of a Few Shorts

Stand DownStand Down
A J. P. Beaumont Novella
J.A. Jance
Witness Impulse, July 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-241848-7
Ebook
Also available in mass market paperback

From the publisher—

Life has shifted for J. P. Beaumont. After a tragic accident that devastated—and ultimately disbanded—his Special Homicide Investigaton Team, he accepts that he has left homicide detection behind at this point, but he has a lot of unanticipated free time on his hands. He’s keeping busy with renovations on the new house that he and his wife, Mel Soames, the newly appointed chief of police in Bellingham, Washington, have bought. But new fixtures and paint palettes can occupy only so much of Beau’s daily life, and Mel is encouraging him to return to where he is needed: investigating crimes.

In the meantime, she is struggling to gain control of her new situation, cast into a department where some are welcoming—and some are not. It’s been a few months, and the tension in the police department is rising, but Beau realizes Mel has to tackle things in her own way, so he refrains from advising. But when Beau shows up one afternoon to survey the construction at their new house and finds Mel’s car there but no sign of her, his investigative instincts kick in. Suddenly he’s back in the game—except this time, his heart is on the line as well as his professional dignity.

There are many ways that J.A. Jance shows herself to be a remarkably good writer and Stand Down is one of the best examples. This is a short work but, in just these few words, Ms. Jance paints a living picture of Beau and Mel and their lives. When she takes us through the ungodly hours when everything changed for them, I had tears in my eyes and that just doesn’t happen to me when I’m reading a short because I don’t usually get invested without a full-length novel. Not so this time. My emotions were right out there on my sleeve.

And then Ms. Jance throws out a line like this, guaranteed to make me smile:

It was enough to piss off the Good Fairy.

Ah, yes, back on track again, this time Beau’s search for a missing person who just happens to be his police chief wife. No longer a working homicide detective—not by his choice—Beau reverts to character immediately and, by the time this case is resolved in an odd sort of way, his future is laid out for him. Next on the horizon is a new venture, Dance of the Bones, coming in September 2015. and I can hardly wait to see where life will take this died-in-the-wool cop.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2015.

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Drunken FireworksDrunken Fireworks
Stephen King
Read by Tim Sample
AUDIOWORKS/Simon & Schuster Audio, June 2015
ISBN 978-1-4423-8964-9
Unabridged Audio Book

From the publisher—

In this new tour-de-force from Stephen King—unavailable in print or any other format—a salt-of-the-earth Maine native recounts how a friendly annual summer fireworks show rivalry with his neighbor across the lake gradually spirals out of control…with explosive results!

In what came to be known by the locals as the 4th of July Arms Race, Alden McCausland and his Ma let a financial windfall go to their heads. When they set off a lovely fireworks display one Independence Day, the neighbors across the lake, the wealthy Massimos, decide to out-sparkle them. That’s all it takes to rile up Alden and Ma, determined that they will make known to the Massimos and other lake dwellers what a good fireworks show is all about.

Unfortunately, as you might expect in a Stephen King tale, all does not end exactly well (but nearly so). This is one of King’s more “mom-friendly” stories—a little bit of language but nothing horrific, just an entertaining anecdote about a rivalry between neighbors.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2015.

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Summer RainSummer Rain
An Inspector Banks Short Story
Peter Robinson
William Morrow Impulse, June 2015
ISBN 978-06-241380-2
Ebook

From the publisher—

Inspector Alan Banks confronts one of the most puzzling cases of his career— when a tourist claims that several decades earlier, in a previous life, he witnessed a murder committed nearby.

Banks doesn’t believe in the supernatural. Or superstition. But when evidence of a crime comes to light, he begins to wonder: How did this mysterious visitor know about a killing possibly committed before he was born?

When Jerry Singer announces that he was murdered 32 years ago, DCI Banks is skeptical, to say the least, but it’s a boring day so he decides to look into this highly questionable event. After all, what if this purported murder really did happen? Besides, Inspector Banks would much rather sniff around a possible cold case than do paperwork.

The mystery here is slight but Summer Rain is a nice introduction for a reader new to the series. Mr. Robinson unquestionably has a way with words and his description of the Yorkshire Dales takes me back to the one trip I made there many years ago. The Inspector Banks novels can be comfortably read as standalones and I have, in fact, missed a few here and there but I’m really looking forward to In the Dark Places, coming out in August.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2015.

Book Review: After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman

After I'm GoneAfter I’m Gone
Laura Lippman
William Morrow, February 2014
ISBN 978-0-06-208339-5
Hardcover 

Felix Brewer flees the country after his conviction leaving his wife, three daughters and a girlfriend behind.The book opens in 1976 with Felix’s departure for Canada. The rest of the story is told in a slow reveal on two interwoven timelines. The first begins in 1959 when Felix meets his wife, Bambi. Each segment jumps forward a number of years, usually five, until we get to 2012. The second timeline begins in 2012 when Sandy Sanchez, a retired investigator of cold cases, decides to reopen the murder case of Felix’s girlfriend who disappeared ten years after Felix left whose body turned up 2001.

It’s hard to find someone to root for here but it’s an intriguing story and I found myself reading the book quickly because I wanted to know what had happened. Gradually we watch the three daughters grow up, marry, we get to know what happens to the wife, the girlfriend, a few friends of the family and even the investigator and his family. Slowly, bit by bit, the complicated plot is revealed. I think the story suffers from a cad like Felix being at the heart of it but ultimately it’s all about the impact of his actions on those who loved him, even if he didn’t deserve them.

But it reads like a true story and from the author’s note, we know similar things have happened. I wanted to know what happened to Felix, his family and his girlfriend and that curiosity kept me reading. Throughout, there is a long slow reveal, due to the style of the book shifting in time backwards and forwards and I was surprised time and again.

It’s an intriguing read.

Reviewed by Constance Reader, June 2015.

Book Review: Peter Pan Must Die by John Verdon

Peter Pan Must DiePeter Pan Must Die
John Verdon
Crown Publishers, July 2014
ISBN 978-0-385-34840-9
Hardcover

This is the fourth entry in the series featuring retired NYPD detective David Gurney who, according to New York magazine, is “the most successful homicide dick in the history of the Big Apple.” Now in his late 40’s, he and his second wife, Madeleine, live on an old farmhouse in the rural Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, leaving New York City three years earlier (“the city where they’d both been born, raised, educated, and employed”) after 25 years on the job. Dave has agreed to help out his old friend, Jack Hardwick, with whom he has a long and somewhat fraught history: Jack had had a ‘forced departure” from the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation after a difficult case they had worked on together. (Hardwick is described as having “a sharp mind and sound investigative instincts . . . concealed behind a relentless eagerness to offend.”)

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