Category Archives: Mystery

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

A Three Pines Mystery

St. Martin’s Minotaur, New York, 2006

Borrowed from the library.

“Cosy” mysteries are not usually my cup of tea but Louise Penny is such a fine author that I plan on reading all of her books.  This is the second of the Three Pines mysteries.

A women has been murdered.  CC de Poitiers was new to town and, so far, had not made a very good impression on its inhabitants.  She was murdered in front of many people and no one saw a thing. Electrocution on a frozen lake while watching a curling match?  The Surete du Quebec sends Chief Inspecter Armand Gamache to investigate.

Penny has a wonderful way with  her characters.  The residents of Three Pines all have their quirks and their failings, their relationships are not perfect but they are all very human.  Even the grumpiest curmudgeon is likable.

Inspector Gamache is wise and compassionate, one of the kindest characters I have come across, but he is dealing with his own past and not always sure of the next step to take.  And this murder is so odd, how could someone have electrocuted the victim in the middle of a frozen lake, and what could the motive be?

Louise Penny tells a wonderful story, one that seems light on the surface but carries great depth.  She has been winning awards for her mysteries and I look forward to reading the next in this series.

Other reviews of Louise Penny’s books:

A Reader’s Journal

Jen’s Book Thoughts

Mysteries in Paradise

5 Comments

Filed under CanadianBookChallenge4, Mystery, Review

The City & The City by China Mieville

The City & The City by China Mieville

Del Rey,  New York, 2009

I own this one (thanks to students, parents and the blessed gift card).

A Publisher’s Weekly, Los Angeles Times and Seattle Times Best Book of 2009.  The City & The City just won the 2010 Locus Award for best fantasy novel and won the 2010 Arthur C. Clark award in April.

Ever since reading Perdido Street Station and Iron Council I have admired China Mieville’s writing.  When I first heard he’d written a noirish, murder mystery I wasn’t quite sure what that could mean.  I hesitated, finally putting the book on hold at the library.  I waited and waited.   The paperback came out,  I was given a gift card.  I waited no longer.

Wow, this is one of those books I have difficulty writing about…

The story starts with the finding of a body on grounds of an estate in the city of Beszel.  Beszel  feels like an old city somewhere in Eastern Europe.  Inspector Tyador Borlu is called to the scene and finds that to fully investigate this murder, he must travel to Beszel’s neighboring city, Ul Qoma.  But these cities are not just neighbors.  They are intertwined, on top of and crosshatched with each other, and each city’s residents must learn to unsee what they see day-to-day.  There are nationalists and anarchists, politicians, students and archeologists, all wound up in a story that is fast-paced and well written.

There is not much more I can say except to suggest that you read this book.  I don’t really want to tell you more, or maybe I just can’t think of how to write about it.   Even finding bits to quote is difficult.   One thing, it is not an easy book to read,  sometimes the language itself seem to flicker in and out of perception, giving me a kind of vertigo.  Or maybe it was reading it at 2 am that had me dizzy.  In the acknowledgments Mieville offers his gratitude to several authors including Raymond Chandler, Franz Kafka and Bruno Schultz.  He is wise and gracious to do so.   This is one of the smartest and most entertaining books I have read in quite a while.

20 Comments

Filed under Arthur C Clarke Award, Mystery, Notable Books, SciFi

Black Water Rising by Attica Locke

Black Water Rising by Attica Locke

Harper, New York, 2010

Nominated for the 2010 Orange Prize, the 2010 Edgar Award and the NAACP Image Award.

Borrowed from the library,

I love a good mystery but don’t usually review them because there are so many great mystery/thriller review blogs out there.  I am making an exception for this book.

Attica Locke has written a big-town, dirty-politics thriller that combines literary skill with great story-telling, flavored with some of the history of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.  Her protagonist, Jay Porter, a young and struggling lawyer, played a part within that movement and Locke tells his story brilliantly.  Some readers have trouble with books that combine fiction with politics.  I don’t.  I appreciate it and enjoy it.

Jay used to have break-ins all the time.  His dorm room, the duplex on Scott Street where he stayed sometimes, even his first apartment after his trial, a one room rattrap in the Bottoms in the Third Ward.  The feds and local law enforcement often came and went as they pleased, going through his things, bugging the phones.  But they never left more than a faint trace: a lamp out of place, a phone book moved a few inches to the left of where it had been, or his papers rearranged in a slightly different order than before.  Everything else was exactly the way he had left it, down to the cigarette butts in the ashtrays and the dirty dishes in the sink.  The only firm clues that someone had been in his place were the tiny recording devices he used to pull out of his phone receivers.

He’s already checked the kitchen phone tonight. From page 144.

Jay, and his pregnant wife, Bernie, are celebrating her birthday on Buffalo Bayou when they hear screams and gunshots.  They pull a young woman from the water, starting a rush of events that leads to the highest levels of political and corporate power in the Houston area. I find the way that Locke intertwines the past and the present  very clear, never jarring or confusing.  Her story paints telling portraits, of Huston in the 1980’s, of a young man’s struggle to understand his past and to live in the present.

He can’t help feeling this whole thing is a setup, the money nothing but bait.  But why, he thinks, would anyone want to trap him?  His whole life he’s made no enemies he can think of…save for the U.S. government, of course.
The thought is like a hand grenade tossed under his bathroom door.
He watches it roll across the floor, taking up position at his feet.
The blow, when it comes, takes his breath away.
He has a sudden sharp memory of Charlie Wade Robinson, a Panther out of Detroit, Michigan. Back in ’69, the feds tried to nail him on a charge of conspiracy to commit mayhem and engage in unlawful assembly, which one progressive judge promptly through out of his court.  When the feds couldn’t get Charlie Wade on that, they tried to put him away on an illegal weapons charge.  But he dodged that bullet too.  Two years ago, the way Jay heard it, Charlie Wade Robinson was coming out of a McDonald’s restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia, his six-year-old daughter in tow, when federal officers arrested him on felony tax evasion, right there in the parking lot.  Long out of the politics game by then, Charlie Wade had started an arcade business with an investor he’d met at a party, and the IRS claimed they’d played fast and loose with the accounting.  The feds had finally found a charge that would stick.  He’d been locked up ever since.  From pages 174/175.

Many people where surprised at the fact that this book was included on the short list for the 2010 Orange Prize.  I am not going to get into that discussion.  Black Water Rising is the second book I have read this year that deals with the political and social turmoil surrounding the evolution of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and the history of the Black Panther Party.  Both novels were written by young black women, authors brave enough to begin tackling  this thorny history.  Attica Locke, a former fellow at the Sundance Institute and a Los Angeles screenwriter, has written a great first novel.  I look forward to her second.

Other reviews:

Book Gazing

Farm Lane Books

Reading the Leaves

1 Comment

Filed under Mystery, New Authors 2010

When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson

When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson

Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2008

Borrowed from the library.

I read mysteries but don’t often write about them because there are so many good mystery/crime  book blogs out there.  I remember reading Case Histories some time ago, enjoying it and then forgetting about it.  I won’t forget the third Jackson Brodie novel as easily.  Here is a brief synopsis from the publisher:

On a hot summer day, Joanna Mason’s family slowly wanders home along a country lane. A moment later, Joanna’s life is changed forever…

On a dark night thirty years later, ex-detective Jackson Brodie finds himself on a train that is both crowded and late. Lost in his thoughts, he suddenly hears a shocking sound…

At the end of a long day, 16-year-old Reggie is looking forward to watching a little TV. Then a terrifying noise shatters her peaceful evening. Luckily, Reggie makes it a point to be prepared for an emergency…

These three lives come together in unexpected and deeply thrilling ways in the latest novel from Kate Atkinson, the critically acclaimed author who Harlan Coben calls “an absolute must-read.”

What is most interesting about this is that, even though it is a “Jackson Brodie” novel, Jackson is actually overshadowed by several other characters.  Joanna, Reggie and Louise Monroe, a woman Jackson once worked with

Here’s Reggie:

Reggie remembered waving as the taxi pulled away from the curb, but had her mother turned back to wave to her or had she been fussing still with her suitcase?  The memory was murky, half made-up, with the missing bits filled in.  Really, every time a person said good-bye to another person, they should pay attention, just in case it was the last time.  First things were good, last things not so much so.  From page 80.

And Joanna:

She was bereft, her whole life was an act of bereavement, longing for something she could no longer remember.  Sometimes in the night, in dreams, she heard their old dog barking and it brought back a memory of grief so raw that it lead her to wondering about killing, the baby, and then herself, both of them slipping away on something as peaceful as poppies so that nothing hideous could ever happen to him.  A contingency plan for when you were cornered, for when you couldn’t run..From page 272.

And Louise:

….Louise was ever a good deceiver, she often thought that in another life she would have made an excellent con woman.  Who knows, maybe even in this life, it wasn’t over yet after all.

She should have told the truth.  She should have told the truth about everything.  She should have said, “I have no idea how to love another human being unless it’s by tearing them to pieces and eating them.”  From page 290.

Why is this novel so memorable?  Because Atkinson has written a mystery that is more than a mystery.  She has  connected many different characters, brought them together using various plot lines and made it all believable.  To some, parts of this novel could seem contrived,  but at least to me, they never do.

These people are real.  I know them.  Sad, flawed, at times filled with hope, they deal with their lives as best they know how.  And Atkinson’s sharp humor had me laughing out loud.  I hope she writes another in this series.

Other reviews:

A Bookworm’s World

Shelf Love

Vulpes Libris

3 Comments

Filed under Mystery, Review

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

fly0739340174.01._SX140_SY225_SCLZZZZZZZ_

crime_fiction_alphabet

This week I am posting a review for the Crime Fiction Alphabet.

The letter for this week is F, like in Flynn.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Shaye Arehart Books, New York, 2006

Borrowed from the library.

Camille Preaker is a struggling reporter for a  second-rate  newspaper in Chicago.  In the small town of Wind Gay, following the murder of a young girl, another girl turns up missing. Wind Gap is Camille’s home town and her editor, thinking this opportunity might push her out of a rut, sends her to cover the story.

Camille is on edge, drinking too much and recovering from self-abuse.  She finds herself back in her childhood home, pushed up against her bizarre mother, and a half sister who heads a gang of twelve-year-old girls that reminded me of every mean, bitchy girl I ever knew.  All this brings up  the remnants of her past life, her dysfunctional family relationships (her step dad is a piece of work) and the memories of a long dead sister.  The longer Camille stays in town, the closer she comes to completely losing it, but she manages to hold it together long enough to sleep with the investigator from Kansas City and an eighteen-year-old suspect, and to get good and whacked with her creepy half-sister, Amma.   Eventually she discovers the murderer.

There were times when I almost gave up on this one.  This is Flynn’s first novel, very good in places and wobbly in others.  She is an edgy, creepy writer who invests a lot of twisted energy in her protagonists.  It didn’t take me long to figure out the murderer but I’m glad I stuck with it.  Flynn is very good at diving beneath the surface and exposing human frailty and pain, she knows what drives us. This is a good introduction to a writer who will only get better with time.

I read her second novel, Dark Places and reviewed it here.

Other reviews:

chaotic compendiums

Sam’s Book Blog

2 Comments

Filed under Mystery, Review

Still Life by Louise Penny

pen0312541538.01._SX140_SY225_SCLZZZZZZZ_Still Life by Louise Penny

St. Martin’s Minotaur, New York, 2006

I read mysteries and speculative fiction for the sheer enjoyment of good stories.  I appreciate good writing.  I tend to like my mysteries dark and gloomy, think Mankell, Rankin or Pelacanos, and have never been drawn to “cosy” mysteries.  I forget where I first heard about Louise Penny and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and maybe I decided to read Still Life because of the story’s  location in Quebec.  Whatever drew me to this book I am really glad I read it, it was great fun.

Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday.  It was pretty much a surprise all around.  Miss Neal’s was not a natural death, unless your of the belief that everything happens as it is supposed to.  If so, for her seventy-six years Jane Neal had been walking towards this final moment when death met her in the brilliant maple woods on the verge of the village of Three Pines.  She’s fallen spread-eagled, as though making angels in the bright and brittle leaves.

Still Life is a lovely mystery, well-written and full of a deep understanding of human nature.  It is a typical drawing-room mystery, but one that is layered with complex relationships and human failings. Inspector Gamache leads his crew with clarity and is one of the kindest characters I have met in a novel in a long time.  I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Dead Cold.

5 Comments

Filed under CanadianBookChallenge3, Mystery

The Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason

0312340710.01._SY190_SCLZZZZZZZ_ The Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason

Translated from the Icelandic by Bernard Scudder

Thomas Dunne Books, New York, 2006

Winner of the CWA Gold Dagger Award 2005

At a birthday party for an eight-year-old boy a medical student discovers a toddler chewing on a human bone.  The bone, a rib, was found at a construction site on the edge of the growing city of Reykjavik.  With this discovery Detective Inspector Erlender Sveinsson and his colleagues must solve a crime that is decades old.

Erlender has his own problems, his estranged daughter is gravely ill, and his colleagues are not always as helpful as they could be.  The detectives dig back into the 1940’s,  trying to find out who owned the land  and identify a 60-year-old corpse.

Within this well crafted crime drama Indridason draws  a devastating  portrait of domestic violence.   With clarity and compassion he tells of a mother’s loss of self at the hand of her abusive husband, and of her childrens suffering.  This is one of the most honest descriptions of an abusive relationship that I have read.  Irdridason is a master storyteller, weaving different times together in a graceful novel of love and heartbreak.

I am fascinated by all the crime fiction coming out of northern Europe.  I think Irdridason is one of the best in the bunch.  I look forward to reading his other novels.

9 Comments

Filed under Mystery, Orbis Terrarum 2009, R.I.P. IV, Review