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review 2019-01-16 22:09
What Angels Fear / C.S. Harris
What Angels Fear - C.S. Harris

It's 1811, and the threat of revolution haunts the upper classes of King George III's England. Then a beautiful young woman is found raped and savagely murdered on the altar steps of an ancient church near Westminster Abbey. A dueling pistol discovered at the scene and the damning testimony of a witness both point to one man, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, a brilliant young nobleman shattered by his experience in the Napoleonic Wars.

Now a fugitive running for his life, Sebastian calls upon his skill as an agent during the war to catch the killer and prove his own innocence. In the process, he accumulates a band of unlikely allies, including the enigmatic beauty Kat Boleyn, who broke Sebastian's heart years ago. In Sebastian's world of intrigue and espionage, nothing is as it seems, yet the truth may hold the key to the future of the British monarchy, as well as to Sebastian's own salvation...

 

Perhaps a 3.5 star book?

Certainly good, but maybe not exactly my cup of tea. Probably because of the time period, which so many people seem to adore. I, however, have a complicated relationship with the time of carriages, cloaks, dueling pistols, and severe class distinctions.

I also went into this expecting a paranormal angle of some sort, which was completely off base. Yes, our hero, Sebastian St. Cyr, has a couple of special abilities, but as the author explains at book’s end, this is from a documented genetic condition, not a paranormal cause.

If you enjoyed this book or this time period, I would recommend Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia or Veronica Speedwell series. Also try E.L. Tettensor’s Nicolas Lenoir duology or The Hanged Man by P.N. Elrod. These last two have distinct paranormal aspects, which made them preferable for my reading tastes.

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review 2019-01-16 21:47
In the Bleak Midwinter / Julia Spencer-Fleming
In the Bleak Midwinter - Julia Spencer-Fleming

Heavy Snow...Icy Desires...Cold-Blooded Murder

Clare Fergusson, St. Alban's new priest, fits like a square peg in the conservative Episcopal parish at Millers Kill, New York. She is not just a "lady," she's a tough ex-Army chopper pilot, and nobody's fool. Then a newborn infant left at the church door brings her together with the town's police chief, Russ Van Alstyne, who's also ex-Army and a cynical good shepherd for the stray sheep of his hometown. Their search for the baby's mother quickly leads them into the secrets that shadow Millers Kill like the ever-present Adirondacks. What they discover is a world of trouble, an attraction to each other—and murder...

 

I never know these days when I pick up a mystery whether it will be a hit or a miss—I have read so many of them at this point that I’ve become pretty picky.

So I was pleasantly surprised by this selection—for a first book of a series, it was great. First off, I enjoyed the author’s style. I was never distracted by the words, I was able to immerse myself in the world of Millers Kill, N.Y. and go with the flow.

Secondly, I really connected with her two main characters, Rev. Claire Fergusson and the Chief of Police, Russ Van Alstyne. I loved Clare’s independence, the unexpectedness of her being an Episcopalian priest, being ex-army, driving an impractical hot little red car, and learning the ins and outs of this new community where she has been hired. I also couldn’t help liking Russ, who grew up in the community and has returned after his army career.

Just like Agatha Christie, Spencer-Fleming has chosen a small town as a setting for her story. It gives Clare and Russ a much better knowledge of the people around them, making the crime-solving aspect much more informed and interesting. Solving murders in a big city involves much more luck, while these mysteries set in small communities allow for much more exploration of the human decisions that pull people into criminal acts.

Unlike so many series where I’ve sampled one book and feel no need to follow up, I suspect I will catch up with Claire and Russ again in the near future!

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review 2019-01-16 18:54
The Advent Killer / Alastair Gunn
The Advent Killer - Alastair Gunn

Christmas is coming. One body at a time. Three weeks before Christmas: Sunday, one a.m. A woman is drowned in her bathtub.  One week later: Sunday, one a.m. A woman is beaten savagely to death, every bone in her body broken.  Another week brings another victim.

As panic spreads across London, DCI Antonia Hawkins, leading her first murder investigation, must stop a cold, careful killer whose twisted motives can only be guessed at, before the next body is found. On Sunday.  When the clock strikes one . .

 

Somehow this murder mystery didn’t grab me the way some of them do. I started it in late December, but then had a long hiatus until finishing it in early January. It’s a solid enough story, with enough red herrings to keep me from being positive who dunnit until close to the end of the book.

My problem was that I didn’t really connect with the main character, Antonia Hawkins. She seemed to me to be rather thin-skinned and inept for someone who had risen as high in the ranks as she had. And I really disliked her tendency to mix her work and private life indiscriminately. I know that it can be hard to keep those lines from blurring, but Tonia seemed to just heave herself precipitously back into a work relationship with no self-reflection at all. And there’s far more snotty weeping that I care for in a main female character!

Nevertheless, it’s not a bad book and was certainly appropriate for the Christmas season. A few good murders keep the holiday from getting too saccharine sweet.

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review 2019-01-16 18:43
In the Shadow of Agatha Christie / compiled by L. Klinger
In the Shadow of Agatha Christie: Classic Crime Fiction by Forgotten Female Writers: 1850-1917 - Leslie S. Klinger

Agatha Christie is undoubtedly the world’s best-selling mystery author, hailed as the “Queen of Crime,” with worldwide sales in the billions. Christie burst onto the literary scene in 1920, with The Mysterious Affair at Styles; her last novel was published in 1976, a career longer than even Conan Doyle’s forty-year span.

The truth is that it was due to the success of writers like Anna Katherine Green in America; L. T. Meade, C. L. Pirkis, the Baroness Orczy, and Elizabeth Corbett in England; and Mary Fortune in Australia that the doors were finally opened for women crime-writers. Authors who followed them, such as Patricia Wentworth, Dorothy Sayers, and, of course, Agatha Christie would not have thrived without the bold, fearless work of their predecessors—and the genre would be much poorer for their absence. So while Agatha Christie may still reign supreme, it is important to remember that she did not ascend that throne except on the shoulders of the women who came before her—and inspired her—and who are now removed from her shadow once and for all by this superb new anthology by Leslie S. Klinger.

 

A historically interesting collection of short stories by women in the crime/mystery genre. They are products of their time, published before the likes of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. Don’t go into this volume expecting the quality of those two talented women writers!

These are the roots of women writing in this genre from the late 1800’s into the early 20th century. If you’ve read books like Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho or Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, you will have a fairly clear idea of what you are getting in this collection. The best part is that these are short works—there is no need to wade through the pages and pages of description that the reader encounters in the two novels reference above. You can sample and decide if there are authors whose work you wish to pursue further.

I put a hold on this book in my public library, believing that I would get more contemporaries of Ms. Christie, those who were writing “in her shadow,” so it wasn’t quite what I was anticipating. Still, it made an excellent book for coffee breaks, allowing me to read a whole story before having to set the book down & return to business.

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review 2019-01-15 22:13
Mystery, police procedural, and an in-depth look at the US judicial system. A great read.
Justice Gone - N. Lombardi Jr.

I am reviewing this book as a member of Rosie’s book review team and thank her, NetGalley,  and Roundfire for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, ahead of its publication, that I freely chose to review.

This is not an easy book to categorise, and it could fit into a number of classifications, but it goes beyond the standard examples many of the readers of some of those genres are used to come across. When I heard about this book, my interest was piqued by several elements: the book features as one of its main characters a female therapist who has specialised in counselling war vets (many of them suffering from PTSD), and as a psychiatrist (and I did work with military personnel, although not from the US) I’m always intrigued by the literary portrayals of psychologists and psychiatrists and of mental health difficulties. There is a mystery/thriller element, and because I’m an eager reader (and writer) of those genres, I’m always keen to explore new authors and approaches. The novel also promised a close look at the US judicial system, and having studied criminology and the British Criminal Justice system, that aspect of the book was also intriguing. Could the novel deliver in so many levels?

Dr. Tessa Thorpe is an interesting character, and it seems that the author is planning to develop a series of novels around her. She is described as insightful and compassionate, with strong beliefs (anti-war), morals, and a trauma of her own. She is not the perfect professional, and at times her trauma affects her behaviour to a point that I thought would have got her into trouble if she were working in a different environment. We are not given full details of what has happened to her before, but the hints we get through the novel (where other characters in possession of that information refer to it) give us a fair idea. She is much better at dealing with others and understanding what moves them to act as they do than she is at dealing with her own issues, but that is a fairly realistic aspect of the book (although considering how insistent she is in getting others to talk about their difficulties, it is surprising none of the colleagues take her to task). What I was not totally convinced about was the fact that at some point she decides to support the vet going to trial accused of murder, and she leaves her practice and patients unattended for weeks. As she works in a private clinic and we only meet one of her patients, we don’t have sufficient information of her day-to-day tasks, and it’s quite possible that this is not a problem, but it felt counterintuitive to me. Tessa plays an central part in the plot in more ways than one, because although she is an expert in some aspects, she is totally new to what happens in other parts of the novel, like court procedures, and at those points she works as a stand-in for the readers, asking for clarifications and being walked through the process in detail.

The mystery and thriller elements, as I said, are dealt with differently to in many other books. The novel starts at an earlier point than many of the books that give advice to writers would recommend. It does not start in the middle of the action, or the crime (what the real crime is here is one of the main questions). We get the background to the events, down to the phone call to the police about a homeless man, which gets the ball rolling at the very beginning of the book. The police, who have been fed the wrong information, end up beating the man, a war-vet, to death. This causes a huge uproar, and we hear about the way the authorities try to sweep it all under the carpet, then the apparent revenge killing of the three policemen, the chase of a suspect, the hair-raising moment when he gives himself up (with some help from the doctor and others), and then we move onto the court case. There are moments where the book leans towards the police procedural, and we get plenty of details about the physical evidence, the investigation and those involved, we witness interrogations, we are privileged to information even the police don’t have, we get red herrings, and dead ends. The ending… there is a twist at the end, and although some might suspect it is coming, I was so involved in the court case at that point that I had almost forgotten that we did not know who the guilty party was.

I think this is one of the books I’ve read in recent times that best manages to bring to life a US court case, without sparing too many details and at the same time making it gripping. I will confess that the defense attorney, Nathaniel Bodine, is my favourite character, one of those lawyers who will happily cross the line for their client, and he seems, at times, a much better psychologist (and manipulator) than the doctor is. The judicial process is realistically reflected and at times it reads as if it were a detailed film or TV script, with good directions and fantastic dialogue.

And, we also follow the deliberations of the jury, in a few chapters that made me think of Twelve Angry Men, a play I remember watching many years back, although in this case we have a more diverse jury (not twelve men and not all Caucasian) and a more complex case. I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the novel as well, and I could clearly see the interaction between the sequestered jury in my mind’s eye. (It would make a great film or series, as I have already suggested).

The story is told in the third person by an omniscient narrator that at times shows us the events from the point of view of one of the characters, mostly from Tessa’s perspective, but at times from others, like her co-workers or members of the police force. At some points, the story is told from an external and fairly objective perspective (like the jury deliberations); although at times we glimpse the personal opinions of that unknown narrator. I know readers dislike “head-hopping”, but I was never in any doubt about whose point of view I was reading, and the alternating perspective helped get a more rounded view of events and characters. Although the style of writing is factual and to the point (some of the descriptions reminded me of police reports, in their matter-of-factness), that does not mean the book fails to produce an emotional reaction on the reader. Quite the opposite. Rather than emphasising the drama by using over-the-top prose, the author lets the facts and the characters’ actions talk for themselves, and that is much more effective, in my opinion.  

I recommend this book to anybody who enjoys a mystery/thriller/police procedural novel which does not obey by the rules and is keen to engage readers in controversy and debates that go beyond a standard genre novel. (The author explains he was inspired to write this book by an incident not dissimilar to the death of the veteran at the hands of the cops at the beginning of the novel). The novel goes into more detail than most readers keen on those genres will be used to, and also follows the events from the very beginning to the very end. This is not a novel only interested in thrilling readers by highlighting the action scenes and ignoring the rest. Readers who always feel there are aspects of a story missing or underdeveloped will love this book, and also those who like complex characters (plenty of grey areas here) and a story that lives beyond the page. I also see book clubs enjoying a great discussion after reading this book, as there is much to debate and ponder. An accomplished novel and the first of a series that we should keep a close eye on.

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