We’re Not Dead Yet!

I am reading a lot of escapism now in the wake of the new president. January devoured 40 books in mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, children’s and much non fiction. Mysteries are great fun, especially by known authors. I have many favourites and always look for their new releases. A fan of Thomas Perry, I have recommended his stories since his debut Edgar award winning novel The Butcher’s Boy (1982). Metzer’s Dog followed and then I loved the Jane Whitefield series. I own most, have read them all, given several away multiple times. I have recommended several of his later mysteries on this blog. I am just delighted to report that his latest novel is fantastic. I read this immensely satisfying tale straight through.
Title: The Old Man by Thomas Perry

Publisher: Mysterious Press January 2017, 352 pp

Genre: mystery, thriller, espionage, suspense. 5 stars *****

Author: Thomas Perry (b 1947) has a phd in English literature (and as they often do, lists employment as laborer, fisherman, maintenance, weapons mechanic, university administrator and teacher. But then it gets interesting with writer, television producer and writer, including Simon and Simon. 21 Jump Street and Star Trek, the Next Generation.) He is an award winning author, having written 24 suspense novels, notably The Butcher’s Boy (series), Metzer’s Dog and the Jane Whitefield series. Recently he has been writing stand alone mysteries/thrillers, although with this novel, I am sincerely hoping he will start a new series.

Story line: This is a dark tale of a former army special ops, who has lived quietly in Vermont for many years, raised a family, while always on alert. And they did come for him. Not just the Libyans, but our own government, in an all too possible scenario. He stays one step ahead of them using his planning, discipline, intelligence and competence. Dan Chase (aka Peter, Harry, Bill…don’t get used to the name) is a very young “old” man (60 retired widower). 60 is the new 30? Actually I am just fine with that this birthday year!

I particularly liked Julian Carson a conflicted field officer and a great pair of trained dogs, Dave and Carol. I wanted more from the ending, and a few things didn’t add up for me, especially the female character. But it was fast paced and clever with several unexpected twists. Given his hiding in plain sight, I expected to see Jane Whitefield too!

Perry has addictive writing, sharp, engaging, tight multi layered plot, with interesting characters. I thought this book was a return to his previous stellar works, although all are worth reading. I would love to see Dan/Bill become a series, would like to believe we have such individuals in the world. As well as have an older hero, whose maturity provides wisdom (and answers). This is great escape reading, perfect for your winter vacation; it also works to avoid winter cabin blues, with the rollercoaster ride providing adrenaline rushes.

Read on: if you like John LeCarre, Geoffrey Household, Jack Reacher or Jason Bourne 

John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers series

Quotes: The predicament he had created for himself when he was young had made him aware that life was precious.

Curiosity is a sign of a lively mind. That’s the only kind worth having.

Julian kept walking. He had warned his superior officers. He had told them a couple of times that the old man wasn’t just an old man, like somebody’s uncle.

He was old in the way a seven-foot rattlesnake was old.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley, as well as purchased hardcover.

Sometimes you can’t escape the claws….

Title: Escape Clause by John Sandford (Virgil Flowers, #9 )
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 400 pp October 2016

Genre: mystery, thriller fiction, suspense

5 stars

Author:

From Amazon author list: John Sandford is the pseudonym for the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist John Camp. He is the author of twenty-six Prey novels, most recently Extreme Prey; four Kidd novels; nine Virgil Flowers novels; three YA novels coauthored with his wife, Michele Cook; and three stand-alones, most recently Saturn Run.

Story line:

Virgil Flowers, my favourite investigator for the MN Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), is back for another roller coaster ride. We moved from dognapping to catnapping- with endangered tigers stolen from the Mn Zoo. Everyone else is involved in politics at the state fair (leftover from the last Davenport Prey book). Virgil gets the short straw as body counts rise, brutal attack occur and bombs go off.

I always looks for the references of either Davenport or Flowers depending on the book series, and this doesn’t disappoint. I don’t think of it as a spinoff either, Virgil feels more like a real MN cop: tough, smart, long haired (farmer), quirky Midwestern boy. Love the cultural t-shirt references. He does the legwork, finds the clues, thinks through the larger pictures and gets his sociopath, without a gun, if at all possible. The cat helped. 

I read this in one sitting, relieved to be laughing more with Virgil’s engaging antics and comments. Several of the Flowers books have been very dark indeed. The Midwest realism works on all levels, from the swimming hole to the immigrant factory to the traffic. Small town life contrasts seething political issues, with good commentary and further thought. This book will not disappoint.

Read on:

To the first Virgil Flowers Dark of the Moon, or the Prey Series.

If you like Lee Child (Jack Reacher), Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch) or David Baldacci (John Puller) series. 

Quotes:

“You must be the famous Virgil fuckin’ Flowers.”

Virgil could feel his heart clogging up with grease as he finished the sandwich,

New Ulm was getting more like LA every single day, Virgil thought.

“Did you have a gun with you?” Davenport asked. “Yeah.” “You didn’t shoot it, did you?” “No.” “There’s the fuckin’ Flowers we all know and love,” Davenport said.

…..but they had the IQs of small rocks.

“It’s another one of your damn Twin Cities murders that you keep unloading on us,” the sheriff said. “If he’d dropped the refrigerator fifteen feet west, it’d technically be a Minnesota case, which it should be.” “You’re breaking my heart,” Virgil said.

“Why do your cases always wind up like this?” Duncan asked, running a hand through his hair. “Why can’t you have a straightforward missing-tigers case?”

….had physically frozen on a street corner. For nearly half an hour, he’d been unable to pick up a foot to move. Since it was St. Paul, nobody had noticed.

“I gotta think,” Virgil said. “I mean, I am thinking, but I’m not coming up with anything.”

“Beer, weed, and skinny-dipping,” Bill said. He sounded happy about it. “It is just sort of Minnesota in the summertime, isn’t it?”

“If it was anyone else, I wouldn’t believe it. With you, I think, ‘Yeah, probably,’ ” she said.


Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. Will be available from Rochester Public Library.

Summertime chills

It’s a new book….if you haven’t read it! Being a column about previously published books. Perhaps recently reissued, perhaps just discovered, perhaps recommended, perhaps on sale as an ebook, or a library find. Title: Shadow Play Iris Johansen

Publisher: St Martin Press. 337 pp

Genre: mystery, thriller, suspense, fiction, 

4 stars

Author:

Iris Johansen is a New York Times best selling author whose genres include romance, mystery/suspense and crime/thriller. She is writing the Kendra Michels series with her son, the Edgar award winning screenwriter and novelist, Roy Johansen. Her daughter Tamara is her research assistant. Shadow Play is part of the Cara Delaney mini series within the well written Eve Duncan series (first published in 1998). Her next stand alone is No Easy Prey (April 2017); Nightwatch (October 2016 with Roy). 

Story line:

Shadow Play is the first book in a trilogy, within the Eve Duncan series (and book 19 of that). The other two have recently been published, Hide Away and Night and Day, which is why I am reviewing now. Each of the books ends on a cliff hanger, and to me was not complete. Each installment is very good, there is satisfactory character development, action, adventure and more than a few sociopaths. 

Eve Duncan is a world renowned forensic sculptor who has helped many families find closure. Early books focused on the kidnapping and death of her young daughter Bonnie. Her quest for justice with her police detective, now love, provided fascinating, all too real, and compelling reading. They now live in rural Georgia but head to California to solve this crime (and over to Scotland and Russia for the next two books). There are elements of paranormal/supernatural in this series, communicating with the dead, seeing ghosts or understanding animals. It is still a relief to not have graphic sex or violence (although there are plenty of gruesome details) with a mystery, and the detailed relationships between Eve and Quinn as well as Jane, Margaret, Cara, Jenny and Bonnie are lovely. The series looks to continue strongly, with additional developments.

Read on:

If you like Kathy Reichs, Lisa Jackson, Kay Hooper, JD Robb, Karen Robards, Beverly Connor, Heather Graham

Quotes:

This child’s killer might only have been a shadow-figure, but it was malignant and evil and Eve felt as if she could reach out and touch him. 

Out of the blue, out of the darkness, those words had come to her. Weird. Imagination?

…When I work on a skull, it doesn’t usually want to have a conversation.” She shook her head. “Well, that’s not quite true, it did happen to me once before, and that may be why I got a little nervous. I was working on a very nasty, vindictive man who only wanted to bring me into his world and hurt me. 

“And I’ll tell Joe Quinn what you’ve said if it will make you feel better. I’m sure that dossier you have on me stressed Joe’s importance in my life. He’s very good at eliminating threats, real or otherwise.”

How could she tell him that it wasn’t his competence but her own fear that she’d be responsible for something happening to him? Joe was like a force of nature when he was on the hunt.

Margaret nodded. “Okay, here goes. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been able to communicate with animals. I can kind of merge and read them.” Silence. “Read them?” Nalchek repeated. “Read their minds?” “No, not usually. Oh, sometimes. It depends on the species.

His voice was soft, urgent. “I have so much love for you, Eve. I’m full of it, you’re my center. You always have been and always will be. If your Bonnie drifts away from you, I’ll just pour more of that love toward you. I’ll find a way to stop you from hurting. I promise you.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. Available from Rochester Public Library (and as Ebooks).


Shadows…

Chilling Summer Read

Title: Eeny Meeny by M.J. ArlidgePublisher: NAL/ Penguin 422 p (June 2015, USA)

Genre: thriller, suspense, police procedural, British mystery, England,

4 stars

Author:

Arlidge is a British author who worked in television for 15 years (Torn, The Little House, Undeniable and Silent Witness). Eeny Meeny is his debut, but several others are planned in this series. It was the UKs best selling crime debut (2014). The second mystery will be released in October Pop Goes the Weasel followed by The Doll’s House and Liar Liar.

Story Line:

This murder mystery is set in Southampton, a typical English inner city. Bodies appear, but worse are the traumatized survivors. It is a race to uncover clues before the next victim, while also dealing with police procedures. DI Grace is driven to see justice done for the victims as she  

 is also a survivor, damaged but determined with a complicated past. A cop I’d like to be working for me, on my side. 

There is a good supporting cast, each well described and pertinent. I will look forward to their expanding roles and developing personal relationships as the series continues. These are thinking characters and complicated monsters. It says something that with his level of violence and terror, the worst of human nature, that it is all too believable.  

The writing is taut, spare and visual. Each chapter is short (several pages, but on the kindle I didn’t notice this. I was also turning the pages faster and faster.). There are several twists and turns and unexpected, truly frightening sequences. It is a terrifyingly compulsive read. You won’t forget this book and the series for a long time.

Don’t read this if you are kept awake by gore, psychopaths, abuse and violence. I was glad I was on a plane in a safe environment, during the day with all the lights on.

Expect nightmares. What would you do?

Read On:

Ruth Rendell, PDJames, Peter Robinson, John Connolly, Colin Dexter

Watch: Luther, Dexter, MI5

Quotes:

Opening: Sam is asleep. I could kill him now….would he just be glad that this nightmare was over? I can’t think like that. I must try to remember what is real, what is good. But when you’re a prisoner, the days seem endless and hope is the first thing to die.

There is no peace for those who shed the blood of those closest to them.

For the first time in her life Helen Grace couldn’t answer. Yes or no, guilty or not guilty, Helen Grace always had an answer.

Sometimes in life you have to bite the hand that feeds you. 

She had chosen the name Grace because of its redemptive association and Helen because of her maternal grandmother. It would feel profoundly odd and unsettling to have anyone call her by her real name.

Place a hold now, the library has a copy.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you! Except that I will have nightmares and won’t reread this. Still, is the next one available for review?

Chilling thriller

Title: A Song of Shadows by John Connolly (448 pp)
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton Atria/Emily Bestler (Sept 29,2015)

Genre: mystery, thriller, suspense, supernatural, Maine

5 stars

Author:

Irish author John Connolly studied English in Trinity College, Dublin and journalism at Dublin City University, and began working as a freelance journalist for The Irish Times newspaper. He continues to interview authors, which are on his website, http://www.johnconnollybooks.com.

I will never forget reading the award winning (Shamus) first story, completely hooked by the first chapter. Every Dead Thing (1999), took five years to write. It introduced the anti-hero Charlie Parker, a former policeman hunting the killer of his wife and daughter. Dark Hollow (2000) The Killing Kind (2001) The White Road (2002) The Black Angel (2005). Charlie Parker has since appeared in five additional novels: The Unquiet, The Reapers (where he plays a secondary role to his associates, Louis and Angel), The Lovers, The Whisperers, and The Burning Soul, The Wrath of Angels (2013). A Song of Shadows is the 12th Parker novel.

Other works include: The Book of Lost Things, non-mystery novel, a stand-alone book – Bad Men (2004) and Nocturnes (many read of BBC Radio4), a collection of novellas and short stories Night Music, a second Nocturnes will be published this year. His YA books: The Gates (2009) launched the Samuel Johnson series, followed by Hell’s Bells (UK)/The Infernals (US 2011) The Creeps (2013). He is also the co-editor, with Declan Burke, of Books to Die For, an anthology of essays from the world’s top crime writers in response to the question, “Which book should all lovers of crime fiction read before they die?” This book won both the Agatha and the Anthony Awards for best nonfiction (2012/2013). 

Story Line:

This is one of the most impressive crime series, meticulous researched. The writing is superb, every page lyrical and well crafted. The characters are richly detailed, personal and anticipated. I want their stories, their histories, their interactions. You cannot start with this book. 

I read the British version seconds after overseas shipping arrived, exceedingly grateful a lovely friend knows my reading passion. I read the Netgalley e-version to savor the story again. I will perhaps never reread the previous novel (Wolf in Winter), having barely survived the first intense reading. The sequence of events is so much more poignant, traumatic, unexpected and unnerving when these books are read in order. I rejoice at this new installment as well as its future promise.

Charlie Parker is gradually recovering from the traumatic injuries sustained in his last case, but is now a man with a mission and a greater understanding of his role in the world. Parker investigates local murders that are connected to a WWII Nazi concentration camp in Lubko. Seven decades have passed but the crimes still haunt and tragically carry forward. I am delighted Louis and Angel still have his back. That his daughters are central to his being. That Parker exists in our world. Connolly is a highlight of my fictional year.

Read On:

Connolly recommends Ross Macdonald, James Lee Burke and Ed McBain as inspirational.

Quotes:

Opening line: Winter dead, spring dying, and summer waiting in the wings.

One tall and black, the other shorter and whiter, although Soames thought he might have been Latino, or part Latino, or parts lots of things, most of them problematical. (Security consultants, Louis and Angel)

You drive like you got Miss Daisy in the back, said Angel, as they made stately progress west. ….the internal combustion engine is wasted on you.

They (the townspeople) became strangely protective of him…perhaps it was something to do with his past: he was a man who had lost a wife and child, and had suffered grievous injury just for doing his job which, as far as anyone could tell, largely involved putting his mark on the kind of men and women without whom the world was a much better place.

What man offers in heroism on the field of battle, woman equals with unending perseverance and sacrifice (quoting one of Hitler’s maxim)

…beyond (the reach of) any written law, any human justice. But that was not the only Justice.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!
  
 

Chilling summer read

Title: Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs (number 18)Publisher: Bantam (July 2015) 320 pp. 4 stars 

 Genre: mystery, series, crime, suspense

Author:

Kathy Reichs, is a multitalented, fascinating woman with two full time careers: forensic anthropologist and writer. Her credentials include: vice president of the American Academy of Forensic Scientists; member of the RCMP National Police Services Advisory Council (Canada); forensic anthropologist to the province of Quebec; and professor of forensic anthropology at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. Her first book, Deja Dead, won the 1997 Ellis award for best first novel. She is also a producer of the TV series Bones. This is the eighteen mystery featuring Dr Temperance Brennan. I also like her YA mysteries, featuring Tory Brennan: Virals, Seizure, Code, Exposure and Terminal. Her novels are fast paced, clever and should be read in order. I am often a stickler for reading a series in order, but the early books are extremely well written and provide relevant background. Ignore the television series. http://www.kathyreichs.com.

Story Line:

After the previous novel, I was ready to continue the series for an expected presence of old blue eyes. Indeed Tempe has a plane ticket, hours away from visiting him. She’s getting cold feet and becomes absorbed in a chilling web sleuthing tale. It is vicious, compelling and easier to deal with than complicated relationships. These tales are devolving into soap operas for me and I am tired of such a strong female character, dithering, claiming to be independent while needy. Predictably, she gets into serious trouble on her own. How realistic is it to believe we can always take care of ourselves, alone, given the scale of the bad guys she deals with? It makes us complex, but she should have insight into her psyche by now. And give Ryan credit for understanding her given his own history. Perhaps character development suitable to their ages?

But as always I learn a great deal from these novels. Web sleuthing was unknown to me. Another genetic disorder provides clever clues. Astonished/appalled at the sheer numbers of missing persons (90,000) and unidentified remains (40,000). These books are extremely detail oriented with politics, crime lab routines, science, real people in all walks of life and emotional impact. 

This story takes place a few months after the last, and Canadian detective Andrew Ryan’s marriage proposal. Temperance Brennan is a consulting forensic anthropologist for Mecklenberg Co., NC. A horrific recording sets the North Carolina story in motion as cyber sleuth Lucky (Hazel) Strike believes it to be a missing girl. Except no one is looking for her. I like that Tempe can’t let the dead be forgotten, and that she is confident of her abilities. Tempe has a great sense of humour and I wish I would remember her zingers and apply them. Nothing is as it seems, yet everything is credible and fast paced. There is murder, mayhem, haunting, dismemberment, skeletal remains, personal, assault, religious fanaticism/zealots, backwoods cults, exorcism, decent county cops and family drama. Katy is in Afghanistan, Birdie is still overweight, and Mama has a beau.

A great summer read.

Read On:

Jefferson Bass, Patricia Cornwell or a favourite of mine: Simon Beckett (Chemistry of Dealth, Written in Bone, Calling of the Grave)

Quotes:

Please don’t kill me.

Please don’t kill me.

Please.

Kill me.”

“She sure as hell was speaking in blood.”

“You know Doc, when speaking in bones, you’re pretty good.”

“But you are a couple of such elegance.”
Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!

Book Review – Gone Girl

Gone Girl
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

After 64 weeks on Amazon’s list of Top 100 books, I finally got my hands on a digital copy of Gone Girl through SELCO.  I finished it just this morning and I can sum this novel up in three words:  OH!  MY!  GOSH!

Okay, so maybe three words aren’t enough.  I think I’d have to add:  WOW!  YOWZA!  YIKES!

Like most people, I love a really good suspense novel.  Unfortunately, so many these days have become too formulaic and predictable.  This is absolutely not the case with Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Flynn’s newest suspense novel takes the reader to the small midwestern town of North Carthage, MO.  Nick and Amy Dunne are transplants from New York, returned to Nick’s hometown to care for his terminally ill mother and Alzheimer’s afflicted father.  It’s not an ideal situation, but they’ve committed to making the best of a bad situation.

On the morning of their 5th wedding anniversary, Amy disappears.  All that’s left behind are signs of a struggle and clues that lead the police straight to Nick as the primary suspect in her presumed murder.  Through the horrific investigation, the evidence against Nick just continues to pile against him:  an extramarital affair; a secret credit card account, maxed out on deviant and violent porn DVDs; and even Nick’s own daydreams of smashing in his wife’s head.  But did he do it?

Gone Girl is nothing short of a surprising and twisted psychological thriller.  Just when you think you have everything figured out, another curve ball is thrown and a new avenue of twists and turns opens for the reader.  The end result is jaw-dropping disbelief.

This book is available at the Rochester Public Library in traditional and audio CD format.  It is also available through SELCO in downloadable e-book format.  For more information about this book, visit the author’s website by following this link.