Monday, November 21, 2011

Pass Me the Good Books and Mashed Potatoes, Please

My kitchen desk is a cascade of notes written with ever-increasing numbers of exclamation marks and capital letters. The notes reflect this week's chaos as my family counts down the minutes to our Thanksgiving trip to Grandma and Grandpa's house. My husband's parents live in Florida and it seems odd to me to visit them at this time of year. For me, fall is fires in the fireplace, piles of leaves to shuffle through, the honking of wild geese as they fly south and seeing my breath when I go outside. More than those things, however, the holiday of Thanksgiving is a time for being grateful, sharing with others and getting together with family and friends. Today, let's look briefly at books that examine ties that bind families and friends within the context of their larger societies.

From the first sentence in Assassins of Athens ("Andreas Kaldis once read or heard somewhere that the chatter never stopped in Athens."), we're taken into the mysterious social network of powerful old families and their influential friends who control Greece. The body of a teenage boy from a wealthy Athens family is discovered in a dumpster behind a nightclub. The investigations of homicide detective Kaldis take him to the heights of Athens society as well as its shadowy underworld and he finds friends in unlikely places. This is the second of an outstanding three-book series set in Greece written by Jeffrey Siger. It's even more fun if you've begun with Murder on Mykonos, although it isn't necessary. 

American writer Poke Rafferty has married his Rose. The "they-lived-happily-ever-after" ending for them and their adopted daughter, Miaow, whom Poke saved from life on the streets, is threatened by the appearance of a very bad man from Rose's past as a Patpong bar dancer, in Timothy Hallinan's The Queen of Patpong. This is a sumptuous literary thriller and the fourth book in a series set in Bangkok, Thailand. You don't have to read the series in order, but you'll deny yourself a treat if you don't. The first book is A Nail Through the Heart, in which we meet these characters and learn about Thailand through Poke's eyes.

When the eccentrically groomed and dressed Lucy Bellringer walks into the office of Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby, he is reminded of a beautiful but tattered old bird of prey. Miss Bellringer insists that the death of her dear friend, retired school teacher Emily Simpson, could not result from natural causes and she's right. Barnaby and his sidekick, Sergeant Troy, put their noses to the trail and discover the relationships and events that led to this homicide. The Killings at Badger's Drift by Caroline Graham is the first book in a well-written traditional English mystery/police procedural series and is a fine book to read in a chair by the fire.

Eliot Pattison is a wonderful writer with three mystery/historical fiction series, all of which provide good reading. In the first Duncan McCallum book, Bone Rattler: A Mystery of Colonial America, McCallum's friend Adam Munroe is one victim in a series of killings onboard the Ramsey Company ship transporting indentured prisoners to colonial America. Because of his medical training, McCallum is asked to examine the evidence, but the crimes remain unsolved when the ship reaches America. McCallum's efforts continue against the background of the French and Indian War. This is a masterful book that depicts the struggles of individuals and conflicting cultures in the New World.

Gabriel Du Pré is of Métis ancestry (Cree, French and English) and he works as a Montana cattle brand inspector in a series written by Peter Bowen. In Coyote Wind, the first book of the series, Du Pré assumes the sheriff's role when the sheriff is shot in a case involving a long-ago homicide. This book is enjoyable due to Bowen's unforgettable characters and his knowledge of Cree culture and rural Montana. Du Pré is a warm and honorable man who doesn't break stride dealing with his lover and his two daughters, each more than a handful. Compared to Du Pré's friends and family, dealing with criminals is easy.

Helen Simonson's 2010 debut, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, is not a mystery but it is such a good book I'll mention it anyway. I read it at the suggestion of Sister Mary Murderous. When Major Ernest Pettigrew's younger brother dies, the 68-year-old Major develops a friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, a Pakistani shopkeeper. Their small English village, Edgecombe St. Mary, buzzes at the unsuitability of this relationship between two widowed citizens. The Major and Mrs. Ali are dignified, insightful, and completely endearing as they interact with their problematic families, the villagers and each other. I'd like to meet them in person, but meeting them on the page was a joy, in part because they both love books and have interesting things to say about them.

American Visa by Juan de Recacoechea Saénz  has been termed "sweet noir" by some of its readers. Mario Alvarez, an unemployed English teacher, arrives at the rundown Hotel California in La Paz, Bolivia, with a roundtrip airline ticket to the US, furnished by his adult son, who lives in Miami. Unfortunately, Alvarez has no visa and it's clear it won't be easy to get one. Fortunately, Alvarez is familiar with the enterprising characters of noir fiction so maybe that visa won't be impossible to obtain after all. I'm reading this book now and enjoying it very much. This is a creative writer who is new to me and I hope to find his other books available in English.

It's always a pleasure to share good books with family members and friends who love to read. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, do you have a book you could share?


  1. Thanks, Della. I'd like to pass you the suggestion of Stealing Mona Lisa by Carson Morton. This is a caper and historical fiction with a deathbed narration by Marquis Eduardo de Valfierno. He recruited a crew to steal the famous painting from the Louvre in 1911. The idea was to pass off copies to rich Americans before returning the real masterpiece to the museum. Nikki

  2. I am looking forward to trying American Visa. There are a great many things in my life that I am deeply thankful for. The availability of books, the time to read them and the vision to make it all possible is one of the pleasures of life that I realize is a gift not to be taken lightly. There are of course more important things like life,family, health and you too know the list.

    I can assure you though that some how I will find time on Thursday to read a little. It may be Thanksgiving themed like Louise Penny's Still Life

  3. My iPad froze up wow, to conclude other books I may read this weekend that are seasonal are Joanne Dobson's Raven and the Nightingale, a Karen Pelletier mystery that includes a deadly stabbing on Thanksgiving day, or I may reread Margaret Maron's Up Jumps The Devil. The choice is Northern, Southern or neighborly with different menu's in each.

  4. Della, thanks very much for the introduction to Bolivian writer Juan de Recacoechea Saénz. AMERICAN VISA sounds great, and I was thrilled to see that another book he wrote is available in English. It's called ANDEAN EXPRESS, and it's about a 24-hour train ride between La Paz and Arica, Chile, during which a murder takes place. Yippee! I love trains, and when a train provides a closed-room setting for a murder, I'm in heaven.

    I'll share recommendations for Boris Akunin's Erast Fandorin series, fascinating historical fiction set in Czarist Russia (best read in order, although not absolutely necessary; first is THE WINTER QUEEN). Another book of historical fiction, REVENGER by Rory Clements, set during the reign of Elizabeth I and involving intelligencer John Shakespeare, commissioned to discover what happened to the Roanoke colony in North America and to spy on the Earl of Essex, who has designs on the throne.

  5. I'd like to say thanks to you Deadlyites for your suggestions. I haven't read Siger, Hallinan, Pattison, or Recacoechea but I've been trying to add more foreign settings to my mysteries and these sound good. I tried Leighton Gage and colin Cotterill at your recomendation and those books are great.

  6. Anonymous, I'm glad you like Leighton Gage's Inspector Mario Silva books and Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri Paiboun series, and I hope you do try Jeffrey Siger, Tim Hallinan, and Eliot Pattison. They all write wonderful series.

    If you want help in finding these authors' books in series order, go to this website, where you can look up crime fiction authors by their last names:

    At that website, you can also find series by location, occupation of protagonist, name of protagonist, etc.