Book Review: Pen 33 by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom

Pen 33
An Ewart Grens Thriller #1
Anders Roslund & Borge Hellstrom
Translated from the Swedish by Elizabeth Clark Wessel
Quercus, December 2017
ISBN: 978-1-6814-4013-2
Hardcover

The authors, a crime reporter and an ex-convict, concentrate their efforts on grim, noir fiction.  And Pen 33 does not stray from the mold.  Part of the Detective Superintendent Ewert Grens series, the theme of the novel is pedophilia.  It centers on Bernt Lund, who escapes from prison while serving time for the brutal rape and murder of two very young girls, and repeats the crime on the six-year-old daughter of Fredrik Steffansson while free.

What results from this act is questioned by the authors.  To begin with, the victim’s father shoots Lund. The prosecutor pleads for a life sentence for murder; the defense attorney pleads self-defense on the theory that it was not an act of revenge but prevented Lund from committing similar acts on other children (he was already staking out other girls at day care centers).  Hero or murderer?  That is a basic question asked by the authors, who go on to demonstrate other consequences when Steffansson is initially acquitted.

Unlike the United States, where double jeopardy would apply (this anomaly goes unexplained), the prosecution appeals the verdict and Steffansson is sentenced to ten years and is incarcerated in the very prison from which Lund escaped.  The events and consequences resulting from Steffansson’s shooting affect the entire country, resulting in riots, and raises basic questions regarding duty, the law, and what people are capable of. What is questionable is how the authors choose to end the book. While certainly dramatic, one could envision other solutions. Nonetheless, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2017.

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Book Review: After the Fire by Henning Mankell

After the Fire
Henning Mankell
Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy
Vintage Books, October 31, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-5254-3508-2
Trade Paperback

Henning Mankell, who died in 2015, capped a distinguished career with this follow-up to Italian Shoes, in which Frederik Welin, a disgraced surgeon, was the principal character, as he is in After the Fire.  In  each novel, Welin looks deeply into his present as a lone resident on an island in the Swedish archipelago, living in his boyhood home built by his grandfather, as well as dredging up past memories.

The major difference between the two novels, however, is in the later book, his house burns down, apparently by arson (of which he is suspected) while he is asleep and narrowly escapes death.  Previously, Welin was content to live quietly, taking a daily dip in the sea, even if he had to cut a hole in the ice with an axe to do so.  Following the destruction of his home, things change.  When a female journalist visits to write a story about the event, it awakens sexual hope in the 70-year-old retired doctor, but to develop into only a close friendship.  At the same time,  his somewhat strained relationship with his daughter changes for the better.

In other words, the consequences of the house being reduced to ashes forces Welin to approach life differently, accepting life (and death) as it is, rather than as was his attitude toward it in the past.  His introspection leads him to develop a more practical approach to his relationships.

Mankell has here written a superlatively insightful look into a man’s mind.  While, perhaps, better known for his Kurt Wallender mysteries, Mankell has here added another well-written and -thought-out novel to a long list of other books he penned.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2017.

Book Review: Black Lies, Red Blood by Kjell Eriksson

Black Lies, Red BloodBlack Lies, Red Blood
Ann Lindell Mysteries #5
Kjell Eriksson
Minotaur Books, May 2015
ISBN : 978-1-250-04263-7
Trade Paperback

Ann Lindell has been portrayed in prior entries in this series as an unhappy person but an excellent detective.  In this novel she starts off on cloud nine, having hooked up with Anders Brant in a short but highly satisfactory love affair, only to be disappointed when he takes off on a trip.  And soon she learns that he might be involved in a murder inquiry; no one knows how to contact him and he doesn’t respond to e-mails.

Meanwhile, Ann becomes obsessed with a different murder, that of a 16-year-old girl, while the rest of the department is involved with the slaying of a homeless man, which in turn is followed by additional killings.  And Brant, somehow, has some involvement with all three investigations.  Ann keeps mum about knowing Brant and the pressure mounts on her, not only to solve her own case, but somehow to get in contact with her sometime lover and discover the facts about him and his connection with the murders.

This is not an easy novel to read; it is slow reading, and one has to plod through it with all of its complications and permutations, much less the unsatisfactory descriptions of Ann’s assorted sex life and other sexual references, many of which appear to be gratuitous. Despite these comments, the author has once again written an excellent crime story, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2016.

Book Reviews: Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon, Need by Joelle Charbonneau, and The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

Come Rain or Come ShineCome Rain or Come Shine
A Mitford Novel #11
Jan Karon
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-399-16745-4
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Over the course of ten Mitford novels, fans have kept a special place in their hearts for Dooley Kavanagh, first seen in At Home in Mitford as a barefoot, freckle-faced boy in filthy overalls.

Now, Father Tim Kavanagh’s adopted son has graduated from vet school and opened his own animal clinic. Since money will be tight for a while, maybe he and Lace Harper, his once and future soul mate, should keep their wedding simple.

So the plan is to eliminate the cost of catering and do potluck. Ought to be fun.

An old friend offers to bring his well-known country band. Gratis.

And once mucked out, the barn works as a perfect venue for seating family and friends.

Piece of cake, right?

In Come Rain or Come Shine, Jan Karon delivers the wedding that millions of Mitford fans have waited for. It’s a June day in the mountains, with more than a few creatures great and small, and you’re invited—because you’re family.

By the way, it’s a pretty casual affair, so come as you are and remember to bring a tissue or two. After all, what’s a good wedding without a good cry?

Like so many others, I’m a longtime fan of Mitford and its wonderfully normal citizens, quirks and all, and I’ve laughed and cried my way through every book in the series. Come Rain or Come Shine fits right into the mix and I loved being back in the center of this delightful place. It’s even better that the story centers on one of my favorite characters, Dooley, adopted son of Father Tim and Cynthia, and his upcoming wedding to Lace Harper.

There’s a lot going on in Dooley’s life all at once—graduation from vet school, starting his clinic, getting married—but that really isn’t so unusual and it’s even less unusual that money could be a little tight at such a time. What’s so heartwarming is the way others in the community come together to make this wedding happen, good evidence of the affection the townspeople have for one another.

I do wish there had been more of Father Tim and Cynthia but this is the way life evolves from one generation to the next, isn’t it? Truthfully, there isn’t any real plot here but that’s not what comfort fiction readers look for and the important things, the characters, just sail off the page and into the readers’ hearts.

Technically, this is not part of the original Mitford series but more like an offshoot. When it’s all said and done, I don’t really care because I love this book as much as the earlier ones. I do think there’s a bit too much headhopping and, because of that, I heartily suggest that readers new to the series start at the beginning because, otherwise, you just won’t get the full effect and you won’t understand the characters. Guaranteed, you’re going to love Mitford and it’s citizens 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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NeedNeed
Joelle Charbonneau
HMH Books for Young Readers, November 2015
ISBN 978-0-544-41669-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

“No one gets something for nothing. We all should know better.”

Teenagers at Wisconsin’s Nottawa High School are drawn deeper into a social networking site that promises to grant their every need . . . regardless of the consequences. Soon the site turns sinister, with simple pranks escalating to malicious crimes. The body count rises. In this chilling YA thriller, the author of the best-selling Testing trilogy examines not only the dark side of social media, but the dark side of human nature.

One of the many things that concerns me about today’s society is that we’ve been teaching our children to expect far more than they’ve ever earned, a sort of privilege in which many of them believe that all good things must come their way. Such is the darkness at the heart of the social networking site, NEED. It’s a hopeful sign that Kaylee recognizes the fallacy behind what NEED offers but she joins anyway. She’s a smart girl, though, and it doesn’t take her long to begin to realize the truly awful things happening and the demands that teens are facing in exchange for having their needs met.

The action takes off exponentially and tension continues to build as teen and adult readers alike go along for the rollercoaster ride until a most satisfying ending. If I have any reservations, it’s that I don’t really think that teens, despite their feelings of privilege, are quite this gullible (although they DO tend to behave like sheep and follow the latest fads just because everybody else does). I also think there are way too many narrators but, on the whole, I do recommend this. It’s not Ms. Charbonneau‘s strongest work—she’s one of my favorite authors—but it kept me up at night and that’s a good thing.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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The Readers of Broken Wheel RecommendThe Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
Katarina Bivald
Sourcebooks Landmark, January 2016
ISBN 978-1-4926-2344-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Once you let a book into your life, the most unexpected things can happen…

Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her book-loving pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds Amy’s funeral guests just leaving. The residents of Broken Wheel are happy to look after their bewildered visitor―there’s not much else to do in a dying small town that’s almost beyond repair.

You certainly wouldn’t open a bookstore. And definitely not with the tourist in charge. You’d need a vacant storefront (Main Street is full of them), books (Amy’s house is full of them), and…customers.

The bookstore might be a little quirky. Then again, so is Sara. But Broken Wheel’s own story might be more eccentric and surprising than she thought.

A heartwarming reminder of why we are booklovers, this is a sweet, smart story about how books find us, change us, and connect us.

Being a former bookstore owner and current bookblogger, it’s only natural that I would be drawn to a book about, well, books and the love of books. As it turns out, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend was not exactly what I thought it was going to be but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of this quiet yet quirky story.

From the beginning, I had to suspend a lot of disbelief. For instance, I found it hard to credit that Sara would leave Sweden and her life behind just because she lost her job even though her life really was all wrapped up in that job and in her correspondence with Amy. I also found the willingness of the townsfolk to have Sara move into Amy’s house more than a little puzzling.

Putting those issues aside, this is an appealing story and, having had a bookstore myself, I totally get Sara’s desire to share her love of books with the town. There’s something truly uplifting about finding the right book for a person or just in helping them experience the joy of escaping into whatever world a particular book offers. I don’t mean to sound silly about it but being a bookseller is a passion that never goes away and I know that librarians and individual readers lending books to their friends feel the same joy. That goes for today’s book bloggers, too, who simply have to tell people about the books they want others to know about. Because of all that, and Sara’s general aimlessness, I did believe in her idea of having the bookstore.

The other aspect of the tale that I found interesting is the juxtaposition of the dying town, Broken Wheel, with the nearby more prosperous town of Hope. Without knocking the reader over the head with the comparison, Ms. Bivald brings the two towns into the full light of day and watching what happens to Broken Wheel and to Sara when she opens her bookstore is endearing to say the least. Bookstores really can be the heart of a community and that’s why I long to be running one again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

Book Reviews: January Jinx by Juliet Kincaid and The Beige Man by Helene Tursten

January JinxJanuary Jinx
The Calendar Mysteries #1
Juliet Kincaid
AzureSky Press, January 2015
ISBN 978-0-9899504-9-7
Trade Paperback

Arminta (Misty) Wilcox watches a soldier fall off a landing near the train depot in Kansas City, and a man claiming to be a sheriff from a nearby Kansas town accuses her of pushing the man. This is in 1899. The West Bottoms is a dirty, dusty area filled with railroad tracks, shanties, and manufacturing plants. Nineteen-year-old Minty lives some blocks away on Quality Hill and is out seeking employment after attending business college.

We follow Minty through hilarious misadventures as the spunky young lady goes to great lengths to clear her name and find out what happened to the soldier. In the process, she experiences a budding romance with a young private investigator. At the same time, we learn what Kansas City was like at the turn of the century, its layout and people. The author did extensive research in order to authentically portray the dress, manners, occupations, and mores of the various social strata as well as descriptions of the buildings and businesses.

In the first book of this new cozy mystery series, bullheaded Minty’s humorous escapades keep us engaged. The characters and setting jump off the pages and pull us into Kansas City as it was in 1900.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, November 2015.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections and Furtive Investigation, the first two Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.

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The Beige ManThe Beige Man
An Irene Huss Investigation Set in
Sweden #7
Helene Tursten

Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy
Soho, February 2015
ISBN: 978-1-61695-400-0
Hardcover

This is the 7th and newest in the series featuring Inspector Irene Huss, head of the Violent Crimes Unit of the Goteborg police in the west of Sweden and former jujitsu champion more than 20 years ago (now past 40).  It is February, and they have been enduring a very harsh winter (not unexpectedly).  As the story opens, the police are in hot pursuit of a BMW automobile which had been reported stolen.  As the policemen are chasing  the car, they witness that same car as it hits a pedestrian, sending him crashing into the ground before it continues to speed along the roadway, leaving its victim lying where he landed.  Ultimately, the ensuing investigation reveals that the dead man was a retired police officer known to most of the cops looking for the killers.  And things only get worse from there:  Shortly after this episode, the body of a young girl, perhaps twelve or thirteen years old, is discovered in a root cellar a short distance away, the body apparently having been there for several months.

Her colleagues are still Superintendent Sven Andersson [62 and seriously overweight, with high blood pressure and asthma, now something of a lame duck, as he was about to move to the Cold Case Squad], and Tommy Persson, and Hanna Rauhala, with whom she was frequently partnered.

The story lines alternate between the crime-solving and Irene’s personal life, itself very interesting.  Her home life centers around her gourmet chef husband and her twin daughters, now 19 years old and about to begin independent lives (always a challenge for the about-to-be empty-nest parents), and her mother, Gerd (77 years old and becoming more frail) and her 82-year-old significant other, Sture.

As the investigation proceeds, there are indications that sex slavery is involved, and the Human Trafficking Unit joins the hunt.  The head of that unit offers “The fact is that human trafficking today turns over more money than the narcotics trade.”  The investigation takes Irene to Tenerife, where the body count rises precipitously.  She is told “the demand from the clients rules the market. . . If they’re ready to pay, then everything is for sale, and I mean everything.”

I loved the tip-of-the-hat given to the late Ed McBain and his 87th Precinct tales.  The plot is somewhat complex, but no less interesting for that, and the writing is very good.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2015.

Book Reviews: The Fire Dance by Helene Tursten and The Question of the Missing Head by E.J. Copperman

The Fire DanceThe Fire Dance
An Inspector Irene Huss Investigation #6
Helene Tursten
Translated by Laura A. Wideburg
Soho Crime, January 2014
ISBN: 978-1-61695-010-1
Hardcover

Fifteen years is a long time between police investigations involving the same person, but that is what Inspector Irene Huss finds as she investigates the death of a young woman, Sophie, who as an eight-year-old girl was suspected of arson in the death of her stepfather when their house burned down. What is so striking in the present is that Sophie was burned to death.

The novel proceeds basically in fits and starts, as Irene and the rest of the Gotberg Murder Squad encounter other cases taking up time, and as she seeks either a clue to the past, as well as the present, or inspiration. Sophie had grown up to be a choreographer and dancer who created a dance called, naturally, The Fire Dance, which debuts posthumously to great acclaim.

As in the previous five installments in the series, Irene juggles her police duties with family life, her gourmet chef husband and twin daughters who now exhibit minds of their own in relation to their interests and boyfriends. This portrayal makes Irene a sympathetic, and somewhat harried, character. But she prevails somehow in both roles. At the same time, the author manages to move a crime story forward subtly with panache.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2014.

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The Question of the Missing HeadThe Question of the Missing Head
An Asperger’s Mystery #1
E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen
Midnight Ink, October 2014
ISBN: 978-0-7387-4151-2
Trade Paperback

Samuel Hoenig, the protagonist and first-person narrator in this newest book by E.J. Copperman, 29 years old and still living with his mother, opened Questions Answered, in Piscataway, New Jersey, three months ago as our story opens. His first client of the day is one Janet Washburn, who quickly becomes his invaluable colleague, assisting him in handling his second client of the day, one Dr. Marshall Ackerman, proprietor of Garden State Cryonics Institute, in North Brunswick, where they freeze the body, or just the cranium, “of people who have just died in the hope that someday there will be a means to reanimate them and cure their disease.” Dr. Ackerman’s problem is quite unique: One of the facility’s heads is missing. Since any job requires that a specific query must be posed, Dr. Ackerman asks “Who stole one of our heads?” Daunting as this is from the outset, it becomes only more so when the three go to the facility in question, and a dead body is found in the room in which the head was stored.

The novel displays equal amounts of the usual components of this author’s writing: suspense and humor.   But perhaps one of the most intriguing things about this particular book has to do with the character of Samuel, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, which Samuel believes is not a disorder, but merely a “facet of his personality.”  No one questions his intellect, which borders on brilliance.  He tends to be obsessive about some things, e.g., the Beatles and the New York Yankees (there is a priceless paragraph about baseball as a sport).  The plotting is ingenious, and I devoured this book in little more than twenty-four hours.  I probably don’t have to add that I loved it, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2014.

Book Reviews: Desert Rage by Betty Webb, Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch, and Me on the Floor, Bleeding by Jenny Jagerfeld

Desert RageDesert Rage
A Lena Jones Mystery
Betty Webb
Poisoned Pen Press, October 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0310-7
Hardcover

Betty Webb‘s powerful series is based in part on the knowledge gained during the author’s work as an active reporter in Arizona. That information infuses her novels with a strong feeling of authenticity. Teen aged angst, misunderstandings and over-reaction lead Scottsdale private investigator Lena into a dark place where she must pit her analytical skills and persistence against both official stubbornness and a nearly diabolical adversary.

As readers of this series have come to expect, the writing is excellent, the characters are well-delineated and the story is complicated and real. Two teens, Alison and Kyle, plan to run away to Hollywood and in idle exchanges threaten to murder Alison’s family. When the family is indeed brutally murdered, the teens believe each has separately done the deed and each confesses to authorities.

Arizona Senator Julia Thorsson, with secrets of her own, hires Lena Jones to clear the teens and find the real murderer or murderers. The task leads Lena and her partner, Pima Indian computer expert Jimmy Sisawan, into a difficult case with many surprising layers.

The action is mostly intense and persistent although there are chapters in which the author seems to lose focus and the action slows considerably. However, when Lena is focused on the case at hand and not arguing with her partner the action is brisk and logical. There are indications that her journalistic zeal for the story—surrogacy, law enforcement assumptions, public attitudes toward politics gets in the way of the story. Nevertheless, the quality of the work shines through, the story is compelling and well worth any reader’s time.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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Midnight RiotMidnight Riot
Peter Grant Series #1
Ben Aaronovitch
Del Rey, February 2011
ISBN 978-0-345-52425-6
Mass Market Paperback

Oh, boy, I’ve discovered a most entertaining new (to me, at least) author! Ben Aaronovitch is writing an urban fantasy series set in present day London that’ll knock your socks off. It’s ultra amusing, featuring well-developed characters along with an imaginative take on magic.

Constable Peter Grant’s ambition is to become a detective in the London Metropolitan Police. With the weird flashes of insight that appear to him, he’s soon apprenticed to Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who is in charge of crimes involving magic and otherworldly manifestations. Peter sees and speaks to ghosts, you see. Who knew the London Police had a whole department devoted to magical mayhem? Who knew Peter would have such a learning curve to surmount in his advancing his career?

Peter, along with his partner, Leslie, is soon plunged into the investigation of some awful and outlandish murders, where the killers are as damaged as the dead. And then Leslie becomes a victim as well, as she is taken over by a brutal ghost, and Peter is in a harrowing race to save not only her, but her potential victims.

Aaronovitch not only provides the reader with a unique magical world set alongside the mundane, but he peoples it with all kinds of characters. You’ll find just regular folks, those with magic coursing through their veins, and even gods and goddesses walking this mortal world side-by-side. Good stuff and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, June 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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Me on the Floor, BleedingMe on the Floor, Bleeding
Jenny Jagerfeld
Stockholm Text, July 2014
ISBN 978-91-7547-011-5
Trade Paperback

Maja saws off the end of her thumb in sculpture class. What surprises her is that everyone—her friend Enzo, her teacher, even her father—believes she did it on purpose. Maja lives with her father, a music journalist, but spends every other weekend with her mother.

This weekend, when she gets off the train, her mother isn’t there to meet her. Nor is she at home. Bored sitting by herself in the apartment, thumb throbbing, Maja crashes a party next door. It’s here she meets a young woman she calls Debbie (because she looks like singer Debbie Harry) and a sexy young man in faded pink jeans, who tells her his name is “Justin Case.”

Maja resolves to find out why her mother was not at the apartment, but doesn’t tell her father what happened when she returns home. This young adult novel, a prize winner in Sweden, will appeal to readers who enjoy tales of alienated youth, although the Swedish locations and references may turn away some readers. It’s a well-crafted novel, with a thoughtful, articulate main character.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, October 2014.