Book Review: Desolation Mountain by William Kent Krueger

Desolation Mountain
Cork O’Connor Mystery #17
William Kent Krueger
Atria Books, August 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-4746-3
Hardcover

Stephen O‘Connor, Cork O’Connor’s young son, has always had visions presaging tragedies.  This novel is based on one in which he sees an eagle shot from the sky and a menace he can’t identify at his back.  And then a plane carrying a U.S. Senator and her family crashes on Desolation Mountain.  Cork and Stephen subsequently join others attempting to find survivors and clues.

Soon, some of the first responders go missing, and father and son begin to investigate.  Then Cork inadvertently meets Bo Thorson, a character from a long ago novel, then a secret service agent, now a private investigator.  They join forces, but soon Cork begins to doubt Bo’s role.  The area is overrun with representatives of various federal agencies and is cordoned off.

The plot centers on the meaning of the vision and solution of the cause of the crash.  This is the 18th novel in the series, and provides, for the first time, a deeper look into Cork and Stephen’s relationship.  As is a constant in the series, it is well-written, and the descriptions of the North Country graphic and excellent.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2018.

Book Review: Wicked River by Jenny Milchman

Wicked River
Jenny Milchman
Sourcebooks Landmark, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-4926-6441-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Six million acres of Adirondack forest separate Natalie and Doug Larson from civilization. For the newlyweds, an isolated backcountry honeymoon seems ideal-a chance to start their lives together with an adventure. But just as Natalie and Doug begin to explore the dark interiors of their own hearts, as well as the depths of their love for each other, it becomes clear that they are not alone in the woods.

Because six million acres makes it easy for the wicked to hide. And even easier for someone to go missing for good.

As they struggle with the worst the wilderness has to offer, a man watches them, wielding the forest like a weapon. He wants something from them more terrifying than death. And once they are near his domain, he will do everything in his power to make sure they never walk out again.

Many, many years ago when I was a teenaged Girl Scout, my troop traveled from Virginia to New Hampshire so we could hike a 50-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail through the White Mountains, ending at the summit of Mt. Washington where you can find some of the most extreme weather imaginable. We were experienced hikers and campers and had trained hard for this adventure which turned out to be wonderful except for one night. During the day, we had separated into two groups because some of us were more energetic than others and the slower group, the one I was in, took the wrong path at a fork, not long before dusk. Hours later, we were undoubtedly lost and we had to spend most of the night in the wilds until a team of rescuers showed up. Needless to say, we were humiliated but, still, it was an adventure for sure so I’d have to say we all felt an array of emotions from embarrassment to elation and I still remember it with a good deal of clarity.

All that came to mind while I was reading Wicked River and I think allowed me to have a real connection with Natalie and Doug during their ordeal, especially Natalie. It’s a different forest, of course, and the Whites are generally considered to be the most challenging and formidable terrain in the Northeast but wilderness is wilderness, no matter where it is and especially so for Natalie who was only minimally prepared for this honeymoon trip.

Natalie is a really interesting character because she’s so much like most of us. Her experience in wilderness trekking is limited but she wants to please Doug who loves this sort of thing. That doesn’t mean that she’s been talked into the trip against her will; far from it, although she does have reservations about her abilities even after a certain amount of training and preparation. In short, she’s you and me, setting off on an adventure with more than a little trepidation but she’s still looking forward to it.

What Natalie and Doug don’t know but we do is that there’s a truly dangerous man in this part of the Adirondacks. As Natalie prepares for her wedding, we get a hint of something being not quite right, actually several somethings, and, at the same time, we meet Natalie’s niece, Mia. This teenager can be monumentally annoying but I liked her and it’s a good thing since she’s going to become very important later on.

Jenny Milchman is a master at wilderness settings and this one is no exception. Instead of crippling cold, which the author does extremely well, Wicked River plants us in the midst of heat and alarming sounds and smells as well as the frightening sense of aloneness and being truly lost. None of that even begins to reflect the menace coming up behind them nor what Natalie will have to do if there’s any hope of survival.

Well done, Ms. Milchman—once again, you’ve kept me up at night because I couldn’t stop reading 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

Book Review: Freedom’s Child by Jax Miller And Manitou Canyon by William Kent Krueger

freedoms-childFreedom’s Child
Jax Miller
Crown, July 2015
ISBN: 978-0-8041-8680-3
Hardcover

Foul-mouthed Freedom Oliver is a bartender in Oregon, shielded by Witness Protection.  The reason is that 20 years before she was arrested for murdering her husband and held for two years, before the evidence she planted resulted in the arrest and conviction of her brother-in-law.  But upon her arrest she gave up her two children for adoption, fearing life imprisonment.  Incidentally neither she nor he had actually fired the gun.

The children were placed in the home of a religious zealot in Kentucky, the head of a cult.  Now, 20 years later, the brother-in-law is freed and is seeking revenge.  Meanwhile, her daughter goes missing and Freedom leaves to find the child, who may have been kidnapped.  Along the way she meets her son, now a successful attorney.

This is a debut novel, and for all its interesting plot, it also suffers from superfluous and foul language and other excessive attributes of an unpolished author, especially the novel’s conclusion, which can only be described as a neophyte’s bright idea.  Nevertheless, despite all of that, the time it took to read the story was worthwhile because it is more than interesting.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2016.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

manitou-canyonManitou Canyon
A Cork O’Connor Mystery #15
William Kent Krueger
Atria Books, September 2016
ISBN: 978-1-476-74928-0
Hardcover

Of the fifteen volumes in the excellent Cork O’Connor series, this latest is one of the best.  It finds Cork in the midst of at least two conspiracies during which he probably learns more about himself than he has in a long time.  It is November, a month in which he has undergone several tragedies, including the death of his wife.  In a depressed mood, his daughter’s wedding looms in a couple of weeks.

The Cork is approached by the grandchildren of a boyhood friend he has not seen in decades, who has gone missing in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, to try to find the man despite a two-week search-and-rescue operation having failed and efforts called off.  Instead of the couple of days by which Cork promised his daughter to return, he and the accompanying granddaughter go missing as well.  And this leads to some of the best writing and descriptions in a series that abounds in such efforts as Cork and the woman are captured and with their captors trudge and canoe northward to Canada.

Meanwhile back home Cork’s family and friends realize something has gone wrong and they fly to Raspberry Lake looking for him. With winter setting in, it becomes a race not only for survival for the group that captured Cork, but also for his rescuers.  As is usual, the author gives the reader deep insight not only into Ojibwe culture but the Northwoods environment in which the story takes place.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2016.

Book Review: Crow Mountain by Lucy Inglis

Crow MountainCrow Mountain
Lucy Inglis
Chicken House (UK), September 2015
ISBN 978-1-910002-35-3
Paperback
Chicken House (US), May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-90407-0
Hardcover

Sixteen year old Hope lives in London with her extremely feminist, scientific researcher mom. She has very little contact with her actor father who took off with his pregnant co-star around the time Hope was born. Mom is extremely controlling…Of Hope’s schooling, her diet, what she can do, pretty much everything.

When Mom heads off to do an ecological study on a Montana ranch, one of the few remaining unspoiled ones that practices environmentally friendly ranching, she drags her daughter along, even though Hope wants to stay in London and be with her friends.

Crow Ranch has been in operation since the 1870s and run by the same family. When a handsome young man, Caleb, the owner’s son, meets Hope and her mother at the airport in Helena, she feels an immediate attraction, but her shyness keeps her from saying anything. When they stop in Fort Shaw and the local sheriff harasses Cal, as he prefers to be called, while hinting to Hope about unsavory behavior in Cal’s past, it’s her first inkling that there’s trouble ahead.

It doesn’t take long for Cal and Hope to start talking and become very aware of their growing mutual attraction. After he shows her the room above the barn where she can hide out from her mother, Hope discovers a diary written by a girl named Emily who was on her way to an arranged marriage in San Francisco via Portland Oregon, by stagecoach in the early 1870s. She’s fascinated by the story and takes the diary with her the following day when she and Cal head off through back country roads in the national forest on a trip to get Cal’s mother who has been caring for her sister in law following a broken bone. They’re also hauling a horse trailer as they’re to bring back a couple horses.

At this point, the book begins to alternate chapters between Hope and Cal following a scary accident, and diary entries telling the story of Emily and the mysterious young man she first sees outside her hotel room in Helena, as they encounter an eerily similar fate. To say more might spoil the plot, but I can say that first off, I bought this immediately following my reading of her other book, City of Halves, which is equally stellar.

This is an excellent book, part adventure, part love story, part historical fiction and a book that forces you to keep reading because of the tension and uncertainty facing both couples. It’s one that deserves a place in many libraries, both school and public.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2015.

Book Review: After the End by Amy Plum

After the EndAfter The End
After the End #1
Amy Plum
HarperTeen, May 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-222561-0
Trade Paperback

Juneau is the heir to the role of shaman in her clan. Whit, the current one, has trained her in the ways of connecting to what they call the Yara, a universal force that permeates all things. The adults fled to a remote region beyond Denali in Alaska after what they have told the children was World War III in the early 1980s.

She’s out hunting for caribou when she hears the frightening whump of a helicopter. While she’s been told that civilization has been destroyed, save for a few of what the elders call brigands, she’s heard this scary sound a couple times before and recognizes the threat it poses, so she abandons her kill and drives her sled dogs back to her village as fast as she can.

When she arrives, all clan members are gone and the dogs have been killed. Whit was supposed to be away on a retreat to a cave, but when she arrives there she realizes no one has been there for months. Her ‘reading’, a way she sees distant events and connects with other clan members, tells her that both Whit and the rest of her clan have been abducted, but Whit’s near the sea while her father and the others are much further away in what appears to be a desert location. This realization is the beginning of her odyssey, one where she intends to find and free her clan. When she reaches the sea, she’s stunned by the city and people she finds, forcing her to not only question everything she believes, but adapt quickly while evading pursuers.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Miles has been kicked out of his private school for a third major infraction and is working in the mailroom at his father’s pharmaceutical firm. He was headed to Yale before getting expelled. When he overhears his father talking about a valuable girl who is on her way to Seattle, he decides to go and find her as a way of redeeming himself. That girl is Juneau.

When their paths cross, it’s the start of an uneasy alliance that finds them equally frustrated and disbelieving, but the longer they’re together, the more Miles realizes Juneau’s telling the truth and the stronger their attraction becomes. There’s a lot of action, a need for readers to suspend a bit of belief, a neat budding romance and a cliffhanger ending. It was good enough for me to order the sequel immediately.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, January 2016.

Book Review: Twilight is Not Good for Maidens by Lou Allin

Twilight Is Not Good For MaidensTwilight is Not Good for Maidens
A Holly Martin Mystery #3
Lou Allin
Dundurn, June 2013
ISBN 978-1-4597-0601-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Corporal Holly Martin’s small RCMP detachment on Vancouver Island is rocked by a midnight attack on a woman camping alone at picturesque French Beach. Then Holly’s constable, Chipper Knox Singh, is accused of sexually assaulting a girl during a routine traffic stop and is removed from active duty. At another beach a girl is killed. An assailant is operating unseen in these dark, forested locations.

The case breaks open when a third young woman is raped in daylight and gives a precise description of the assailant. Public outrage and harsh criticism of local law enforcement augment tensions in the frightened community, but as a mere corporal, Holly is kept on the periphery. She must assemble her own clues.

I have had a ridiculously hard time making myself write this review and it’s not because there’s anything wrong with the book. Although we never met face to face, I counted Lou Allin as a friend for many years and we lost this very good writer and most excellent chum just about the time I was planning to publish my review. You might say she took the wind right out of my sails but I can’t put it off forever, especially since I think a lot of my readers will really enjoy this book.

Twilight is Not Good for Maidens is the third entry in the series featuring a Mountie based in Vancouver and the romantic lure of that organization is what first drew me in despite the fact that this particular Mountie is a female. Holly is good at her job but she does have to contend with a certain amount of bias, even dismissal. This time, the fact that the crimes are attacks against women gives Holly a little bit of an edge but she still has to investigate without much support from her colleagues and she has to go that extra mile to prove herself and her theories. Unfortunately, public opinion is running against them, not helped by the accusations leveled against her fellow Mountie, Chipper.

Lou‘s descriptions of the setting pulled me in and she was especially good at making me truly experience the uneasiness, growing into fear, that the first victim, Maddie, felt alone in the dark edge of wilderness. I couldn’t help thinking that women today, especially young ones, can sometimes put themselves into really dangerous situations. I don’t mean to say that I think Maddie and the other victims were to blame in any way for what happened to them, any more than real life women are, but I do think a little caution and forethought is not a bad thing. A girl traveling alone, sleeping in a tent in a fairly remote area where cell phones don’t work, is pushing her luck. Evil things DO happen to innocent people so why make it easier for the bad guys? Even the book’s title alludes to this, taken from a poem by Christina Rosetti, “Goblin Market”:

Dear, you should not stay so late,
Twilight is not good for maidens;
Should not loiter in the glen
In the haunts of goblin men.

At any rate, leaving my soapbox aside, Holly’s pursuit of the truth, with clues leading her in all directions, is full of suspense and the secondary storyline of Holly’s search for answers in the ten-year-old disappearance of her mother is every bit as riveting. The pages turn almost on their own and I heartily recommend Twilight is Not Good for Maidens to anyone who likes a good police procedural with a very likeable and intelligent protagonist. Well done, Lou!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2015.

Book Review: The Whisper of Legends by Barbara Fradkin

The Whisper of LegendsThe Whisper of Legends
An Inspector Green Mystery
Barbara Fradkin
Dundurn Press, April 2013
ISBN 9781459705678
Hardcover

From the publisher—

When his teenage daughter goes missing on a summer wilderness canoe trip to the Nahanni River, Inspector Michael Green is forced into unfamiliar territory. Unable to mobilize the local RCMP, he enlists the help of his long-time friend, Staff Sergeant Brian Sullivan, to accompany him to the Northwest Territories to look for themselves.

Green is terrified. The park has 30,000 square kilometres of wilderness and 600 grizzlies. Even worse, Green soon discovers his daughter lied to him. The trip was organized not by a reputable tour company but by her new boyfriend, Scott, a graduate geology student. When clues about Scott’s past begin to drift in, Green, Sullivan, and two guides head into the wilderness. After the body of one of the group turns up at the bottom of a cliff, they begin to realize just what is at stake.

Mike Green is a force to be reckoned with on the streets of Ottawa but he’s truly out of his element when he goes in search of his daughter in the vast wilderness surrounding the Nahanni River. He finds himself in this situation when there are signs her small group may be in trouble and, being a cop and a dad, he can’t just sit home and wait for others to rescue them—if rescue is even needed. The man in charge of the local RCMP doesn’t think so and Inspector Green learns that his position in a fellow law enforcement agency carries little weight. Fortunately, not everyone feels the same way but will they be able to find Hannah before something terrible happens?

It has been many years since my camping and hiking days and I never did any serious whitewater canoeing but I know enough to understand the dangers faced by anyone trekking through such terrain. Add to that some questionable motives, the loner personalities that thrive in such surroundings and the inevitable results of greed run amok and you’ve got a thriller that will keep you up nights till it’s all over. I especially enjoyed the historical storyline that ties in with the modern-day quest for survival. I suspect the author may have stepped outside of her own comfort zone with The Whisper of Legends but her ability to tell a grand story and address issues of concern at the same time has not lessened since the first book of hers I read long ago.

Barbara Fradkin first came to my attention a number of years in the past, probably along about late 2000 or early 2001. A the time, I owned a genre bookstore and I was interested in bringing in some mysteries (and other genres) by Canadian authors because I knew our customers hadn’t really been exposed to many. Do or Die was my introduction to Ms. Fradkin and to Inspector Green.  Both have stuck in my mind ever since but, truth is, I had drifted away and didn’t read anything else by her until now. As much as I loved having a bookstore, a big downside is that you just can’t devote the time you might have previously to keeping up with series because you have to read so many new books to “know the product”. In this case, I knew she was a terrific writer and my customers would enjoy the inspector so I didn’t have a real need to read more.  We always brought in the next books and our customers did, indeed, love them.

Now, I’m delighted to have gotten back on the right track and, since it will be a while before the next title, I can indulge myself by starting at the beginning again. As the saying goes, “I can’t hardly wait”.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2013.