Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Not Leaping on Leap Day

I haven't been shot, stabbed, or run over by a homicidal maniac behind the wheel of a car. No, the reason I've been glued to the bed is a bad case of the flu. I'd like to tell you about what I've read this week, but I'll have to make it quick. I need my hands free for wielding a tissue or for pulling the covers firmly over my head.

I don't think Wallace Stroby's Crissa Stone has ever pulled the covers over her head in her life. That doesn't mean Crissa hasn't pulled a blanket over another person's head during her work as a professional thief. Crissa isn't her real name, but it's the name she uses to rent her New York City apartment.

She lives in a way that allows her to jettison a name and disappear at a moment's notice, according to rules her mentor and lover, Wayne Boudreaux, taught her. Wayne didn't do a good job following those rules, and now he's in a Texas prison with seven years to go on his sentence. For $250,000 placed in the right hands, Wayne's upcoming parole hearing might go well. This means the cool-headed and resourceful Crissa is desperate for money and must perform a robbery she might otherwise turn down.

I don't want to say anything more about the plot. This hardboiled book, published in 2011, is absolutely terrific and deserves to be read "cold."

Stroby's Cold Shot to the Heart is the first in the Crissa Stone series. The sequel, Kings of Midnight, is due out in April 2012, and I'm really looking forward to it. Crissa is the best bad woman I've met in a long while. Stroby has a big talent for intricate plotting and finely-tuned characterization. It's not easy to make career criminals sympathetic, but it's easy to root for some of them in Stroby's book. It's not at all easy to put this book down.

Duane Swierczynski's Fun & Games is another book difficult to close before the finish. In this one, Charlie Hardie is an ex-consultant to the Philadelphia Police Department who had a very stressful time and now makes a living house-sitting for wealthy clients. Charlie has just arrived at his current job in the Hollywood Hills, where he plans to settle down on a comfortable sofa with a cold drink and a classic movie in the DVD player. But the key isn't in the mailbox where it should be. And there's a woman in the house where there shouldn't be. Charlie has wandered into an assassination scenario set up by the Accident People, who specialize in fatal "accidents" with a "narrative" that will make them plausible to the cops and the public.

This June 2011 book, the first in the Charlie Hardie trilogy, is relentless adrenalin-fueled action. I stashed my disbelief under the bed and enjoyed the book, but I was almost relieved when it was over. The second in the series, Hell & Gone, was published in October 2011, and I'll have to read it to see what Swierczynski and the Accident People have next in store for poor Charlie. He doesn't get much of a breather before his third appearance in Point & Shoot, due in March 2012.

One more book, and then I'll go back to sleep: Anne Holt's 1222, a snowbound, locked-room mystery that's a homage to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None.

After a Norwegian train derails during a blizzard at the top of the Oslo to Bergen line, the 269 passengers are evacuated to the hotel near the station, Finse 1222. Luckily, the hotel is almost empty, and the staff is happy to make the passengers at home and to stuff them with gourmet food.

Among the passengers are a right-wing media personality, a Muslim couple, several priests, a physician who's a dwarf, good-looking bad boys in hoodies, and a beleaguered financier. Although some suspect royalty, nobody's quite sure about the mysterious passengers from the special carriage at the end of the train; they were evacuated first and are now in a cordoned-off apartment guarded by armed men. Let's not forget the passenger/narrator, grumpy and antisocial Hanne Wilhelmsen, who retired from the police force four years ago when a bullet severed her spine and left her paralyzed from the waist down. She hates being carried, so she refuses the offer of a bedroom and spends most of her time in the lobby, a good place for observation from her wheelchair.

Author Anne Holt, who once worked for the Oslo Police Department and is a former Norwegian minister of justice, creates an atmosphere of increasing claustrophobia and tension inside Finse 1222 as the temperature drops and the blizzard worsens outside. It's the worst storm Finse has seen in 100 years, and nobody can leave until it subsides. When people start to die, Hanne––aided and impeded by a trio of helpers––has to deal with it whether she wants to or not.

1222, published in 2011, is the eighth Hanne Wilhelmsen book, but it's the first to be translated into English (by Marlaine Delargy). The book's dedication says, "This book is a little bit serious and a lot of fun" and, while there are no surprising twists and turns, it is fun. I love snow, and Holt writes so beautifully about it, it becomes a character. She shows a good sense of humor with her colorful cast of people. I enjoyed Hanne and this book, and I'm looking forward to reading the others by this best-selling Norwegian writer. The first book in the series is due to be released in English as The Blind Goddess in the UK in June 2012.

And now, I'm looking forward to going back to bed.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Murder by the Numbers

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when readers who were completists, like myself, used to have to resort to reading the list printed in the first few pages of a book to see what other books an author had written and in which order. It did not take long to find that the flaw in this system was such that the list was frequently not in any particular order. Besides that, where I grew up you had to read just what was available.

One of the little solutions to this problem was to read books whose sequence was evident from the title; for instance, in series following the days of the week or months of the year. The first of these that I recall was the wonderful series by Harry Kemelman that began in 1964 with Friday the Rabbi Slept Late. The Rabbi was David Small, who lived in Barnard's Crossing, Massachusetts. Interesting cases came across his path and he was an excellent sleuth as well. What I recollect most clearly was his subtle education of the reader about some of the fine points of Judaism. I still have some of these old novels in paperback on my shelf and would like to reread them. There were seven days of the week before the Rabbi just solved cases on different days, completing the series more than thirty years later.

Perhaps better known and quite easy to read sequentially is Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone series about a female private eye in Santa Teresa, California. A Is for Alibi began the run of alphabetical titles, which now is at V Is for Vengeance. Kinsey is an iconic heroine (when her story began we still used this term) who was raised by a no-nonsense aunt, and who was a police officer briefly before settling into career as a PI. She is a tough cookie who lives a minimalist lifestyle and has few––but very faithful––friends. The series began in 1982, the same year that V. I. Warshawski, the brainchild of Sara Paretsky, came to print. Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone pre-dates Kinsey by five years, first published in 1977. I enjoyed this series quite a bit but I am stalled at N.

In the late '80s, I found M. J. Adamson's series featuring Balthazar Marten. It began with Not Till a Hot January. It was a bitter cold January in New York and Det. Marten was being bored to icicles at his desk job that has kept him working and his mind partially off his personal problems. Balthazar has never totally recuperated from the bomb blast almost a year ago that killed his wife and ruined his leg. Now he has a new assignment that he really wished would have passed him by, but that was not to be. He is headed to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to help with the problems a new casino is having with organized crime.

Marten was well known for his recent work in the River Rat case, in which a serial killer was tracked and caught.  He did speak a good college Spanish and had a partner in the past who had helped him with the language and was Puerto Rican himself. So the powers that be thought he was the right man for the job.

Before he even gets settled in his hotel room by the beautiful harbor, he finds that he has been reassigned to new case of a possible serial killer of young women. This is considered by some a very un-Puerto Rican crime because the case, as it began, seemed very well planned and executed. On the island, murders were usually spontaneous. As a matter of fact, in San Juan they had two distinct homicide divisions. Homicide One, where the killer was unknown––and these crimes were rare––and a larger Homicide Two, for cases where the assailant was known soon after the murder; spouse or other family member, for example. I enjoyed this series because of the great sense of place, interesting and different types of crimes and because it is the only series I have read that takes place in Puerto Rico.

A second series featuring the months of the year is written by Jess Lourey. These are more contemporary and feature a somewhat disgruntled assistant librarian in Battle Lake, Michigan. In the first, May Day, Mira James is consistently foolish, which made it hard to admire her. Some of her cracks were witty and funny, but they were quite mean at the same time. There were many snide remarks when referring to the blue hair, raisin ranch, Q-Tip (white hair, white sneakers) generation. It might have been nice if there was one senior citizen she admired.

The first numerical series I completed was a short one by Donald E. Westlake, writing under the pen name Sam Holt, that was also published in the late '80s. Westlake explains in the preface of One of Us Is Wrong, that he wanted to try something different from his usual successful characters, so he arranged with his publisher this short series featuring Sam Holt, actor/sleuth. His publisher foiled him at the store when he found his books displayed as the author Sam Holt aka Donald Westlake. He never finished the series, stopping at The Fourth Dimension Is Death.

In What I Tell You Three Times Is False, Westlake takes our hero to an isolated location that Agatha Christie would envy. On a small island in the Caribbean, a group of actors and a director have been called together to do a pro bono effort intended to raise money for the American Cancer Society. They have been given the use of a large tower, once owned by a drug baron now in jail. Now it's owned by two movie producers, who have promised to do a certain amount of goodwill work. The idea is to do a "find a cure for cancer" commercial, and they have brought together a cast of exemplary fictional detectives. There is Sherlock Holmes, played for many years by Clement Hasbrouck, who lately has also been dubbed "Clement Hasbeen." Miss Jane Marple is also at hand and of late has been portrayed by Harriet Fitzgerald. The part of Charlie Chan is covered by a true Asian, Fred Li. The most current is TV detective Jack Packard, 6-foot-6, a criminologist, college professor, karate black belt and amateur detective with lots of skills and talents, played by the author Sam Holt. In real life (real life in the book, that is), the only thing that Sam shares with Jack is his height and his experience as a lowly traffic cop years ago.

Once on the island, a severe tropical storm cuts off all the inhabitants from the mainland. Naturally, in cases such as these, dire things happen to the radio as well and  communications are severed completely. This is a skillful retelling of the And Then There Were None type of story, or the cut-off-by-a-storm story, and some clues are obvious and then you talk yourself out of them. Naturally, in this case your money is on Jack Packard.

Two other numerical series I have tried are Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, beginning with One for the Money, and James Patterson's The Women’s Murder Club series, starting with 1st to Die. In both of these series, one was enough. On the other hand, Elizabeth Gunn's numerical series using sports metaphors and beginning with Triple Play in 1997, features Jake Hines, a police detective in Rutherford, Minnesota. These are fast-paced police procedurals with an interesting protagonist and a slightly unusual location.

There are other sequential series I am sure that might be in my future reading. These days, though, with websites like Stop, You're Killing Me! and Fantastic Fiction, I have no problem with finding what else an author has published and in what order. If anyone has some suggestions of mysteries written in a chronological or temporal pattern I would love to hear about them.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Book Review of Peter Robinson's Before the Poison

Before the Poison by Peter Robinson

Chris Lowndes is a Yorkshireman who has made a successful Oscar-winning career in Hollywood, writing music for the movies. But he's always dreamed of one day returning to live in the Yorkshire Dales, and his beloved wife, Laura, was happy to agree. When cancer takes Laura, the devastated Chris decides to continue with the plan, spending the next year making arrangements, including buying a house, called Kilnsgate, in the countryside.

Meeting up with Heather, his attractive realtor, upon arriving at Kilnsgate for the first time, Chris notices she seems a little cagey about the house's history. He soon learns that Heather somehow neglected to tell him that the house has a deadly past. During a Christmas holiday dinner with friends in 1953, a blizzard snows everyone in. Late that night, the host, Doctor Fox, died of an apparent heart attack. But, upon investigation, it is ruled that the true cause of death was poison. Rumors swirl that Fox's wife––and nurse in his medical practice––was having an affair with a much younger man from the village and that she did away with Fox so that she could be with her lover. In short order, and with very little actual evidence, Grace Fox is convicted of murder and becomes the next-to-last woman hanged in England.

At first simply curious to find out more about the house's history, its residents and the murder, Chris soon becomes nearly obsessed, almost literally haunted by Grace and determined to find out what really happened that fateful winter night in 1953. Chris's investigation takes him to France and South Africa to talk to people who knew Grace, including her lover and people who served with her in the nursing services under nightmarish conditions during World War II in the Pacific.

When he is in Yorkshire, Chris works to make the new life that he and Laura had planned. He settles into the house and village, making new friends, taking long walks and enjoying the beauty of the Dales. When he is alone, he devotes much of his time to composing a sonata to honor Laura's memory and trying to come to terms with her death.

Chris's preoccupation with Grace and Laura brought to mind Vera Caspary's book, Laura––and the movie adaptation starring Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney––in which a private detective becomes obsessed with the dead Laura, whose death he is investigating. Chris is tormented by his own dead Laura and, in the dreams that come to him nearly every night, Grace and Laura become confused.

Peter Robinson is best known for his long-running police procedural series featuring Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks. If you are familiar with that series, you'll find this book to be very much a departure from its style. This is not a police procedural. It's a first-person narrative in two senses: Chris's story and the interspersed excerpts from Grace's diary of her harrowing experiences in the Far East and in France during the war. The narratives give the book a feeling of immediacy and intimacy. In the first part of the novel, there are also excerpts from a book describing Grace's trial. These excerpts are chilling, because they show how her conviction was based on prejudice and help us identify with Chris's compulsion to investigate.

The contemporary story is set in late autumn and winter, and Robinson paints a vivid picture of Chris's new home; the beauty of the countryside, the quiet of falling snow, the warmth and conviviality of an evening in the local pub or at home enjoying good food and drink with family and friends. He brings Grace poignantly to life through her diary and the stories her old acquaintances tell Chris, and his descriptions of Grace's wartime experiences and of Yorkshire in the 1950s will make you feel you are there.

The book has some weaknesses. Its ending was abrupt, and Robinson includes a budding romance between Chris and Heather that is unconvincing because his characterization of Heather didn't convey anything that made her seem attractive. And that's even if you ignore her trying to pull a fast one on him about the house's history. But these problems are fairly minor and don't stand in the way of my recommending the book. I'm glad Peter Robinson took a break from the Alan Banks series to bring us this moving and involving story.

Note: I received a free review copy of this book. A version of this review appears on the Amazon product page, under my Amazon username.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Sultan's Eunuch

Yashim the Eunuch, lala (trusted advisor or protector) to Sultan Mahmud II, is the unusual protagonist in historian Jason Goodwin's The Janissary Tree. The book is set in 1836, 10 years after the Sultan had disbanded his rebellious Janissaries and executed their leaders, and the Ottoman Empire was beginning to crumble.

The Janissaries had been the sultan's elite forces and personal guards for almost five hundred years but, like the infamous Roman Praetorian Guard, came eventually to wield enough power to become kingmakers––and breakers––themselves. The force was originally made up of young Christian sons from territories the Ottoman Empire had conquered. The boys were taken forcibly from their families, converted to Islam, and trained in warfare. They were a fanatical and ferocious band of brothers, and enough of them had survived the purge to be a matter of concern for Mahmud, who is about to issue what he knows will be a wildly unpopular edict modernizing the political structure of the entire Ottoman Empire.

The Sultan, a forward-thinking half-European man, had replaced his faithless Janissaries with a modern Western-style Guard after his father and other family members were butchered during the bloody rebellion. He had survived only because his mother, the Valide Sultan, had hidden him in her dirty laundry basket and defied the scimitar-wielding murderers who sought him.

The Valide herself has a remarkable history straight out of a Victorian gothic romance. A beautiful young French woman from Martinique, she was kidnapped by pirates and sold into the Sultan's harem on her way to France. A young friend who followed on a later ship made the trip safely, and eventually became Napoleon Bonaparte's beloved Empress Josephine. These two powerful women maintained the childhood friendship throughout their lives, despite the Valide's enforced seclusion.

Yashim the Eunuch is a bit of a mystery as well. He had come to Istanbul as an already-castrated secretary to a Greek functionary and merchant prince. After saving the lives of the women in the merchant's family during the Janissary uprising, he came to the attention of the Sultan, who found his skills and wit useful. Unlike most members of the Court, he lives outside the Topkapi Palace and carefully avoids its vicious internal politics although, as a technical neuter, he can go anywhere, even into the Sultan's harem.

You might not expect much from a eunuch in the bedroom, but a humorously steamy scene between Yashim and the wife of the Russian ambassador in whose bedroom he had hidden left me wondering a bit. While neither knew the word for "castrati" in the other's language, they managed to come to terms that were apparently quite gratifying to both parties. As the author mentions elsewhere in the book, but only partially explains, there are different levels of castration.

As the book opens, Yashim is sent for by three very important people. The Seraskier, commander of the Sultan's new guards, has inopportunely lost four of his best officers, last seen going out for dinner and a night on the town. Since a major demonstration of the newly-modernized army is planned in conjunction with the publication of the earthshaking new edict the following week, time is tight to find the missing men.

The Sultan, meanwhile, demands that Yashim find the strangler of the young houri selected to spend the night with him. While he had never even seen the girl, murder in the sultan's own harem was unthinkable. And the Valide Sultan threatens to never lend Yashim another of her French novels unless he can recover her missing priceless jewels, a gift from the Emperor Napoleon and his wife Josephine.

The solution of these puzzles will carry Yashim through all levels of society, from the ceremonial cauldrons of the Soup Makers' Guild to the Russian Embassy, and the stinking toxic vats of the leather manufacturers to the inner recesses of the harem.

While Yashim eventually puts all of the pieces together, this historical mystery is so replete with such fabulous characters and vignettes of the secretive society behind the silken veil that it reads more like Tales from the Thousand and One Nights than a straightforward mystery novel. Even Yashim's best friend and sidekick, the Polish Ambassador, has a complicated story and ambiguous position.

The fairly weak plot in this Edgar-winning first novel is completely overwhelmed by the characters and exotic setting, but the bits of Ottoman history and culture the reader is spoon fed (from a silver jewel-encrusted spoon!) and the fantastic characters make this a wonderful escape. I read it twice; first for the story and its solution, then again more slowly to revel in the moods and foods, smells and sounds of the exotic city and tumultuous times the author describes so eloquently. The Snake Stone, second in the series, is in my TBR pile awaiting my future wish for another extraordinary travel experience in space and time.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Curiosity: Not Just a Cat Killer

A curious John Glenn peers inside Friendship 7
Curiosity belongs not only to cats; it belongs to humans too. It leads people to explore shipwrecks at the bottom of the ocean and to venture deep inside caves. Fifty years ago yesterday, it led John Glenn to climb inside the alarmingly small Friendship 7 capsule and to orbit the world three times. In Reed Farrel Coleman's Hurt Machine, curiosity leads a cancer-stricken Moe Prager to stick with a case even when the woman who hired him tells him to quit.

The hurt machine of Coleman's title is a garden variety human. The narrator, ex-cop and retired PI Prager, explains, "No matter how hard we try not to do it, we seem to inflict hurt on one another as naturally as we breathe." Prager's friend, Auschwitz survivor Israel Roth, says that hurt and pain are God's way of letting you know He loves you. Prager isn't so sure. He doubts God's existence. He's been thinking about such things since his oncologist diagnosed a malignant stomach tumor and told him it might be good to get his house in order. Prager's daughter Sarah is getting married in a few weeks and he doesn't want to ruin her happiness. He decides to put off chemotherapy and telling his family and friends until after her wedding.

Prager is just walking into a pre-wedding party when ex-wife and former detective agency partner Carmella Melendez appears. She's not an invited guest. She took her son Isaac to Canada when she walked out on Prager years ago. That broke Prager's heart. Now she wants him to investigate the murder of her older sister Alta. Alta was a New York Fire Department EMT. She and her partner, both off-duty, outraged the NYFD and nation several months earlier when they declined to help a dying man at an expensive restaurant. Carmella and Alta were estranged at the time of Alta's death but Carmella wants answers. She believes the police aren't trying hard to find Alta's killer because they feel she deserved killing. Carmella investigated on her own, but has now hit a dead end. She wants Prager to continue.

Currently, Prager helps his brother with their retail wine business but he's not emotionally invested. All he has done is invest money and gone along for the ride. When he is gone, he worries, all that will be remembered is that he had been a shopkeeper. "Does anyone dream of being a shopkeeper? Does anyone dream of dying as one?" he asks. He agrees to take Carmella's case.

If Prager hadn't already realized, this case quickly shows him that the solution will be tough. Witnesses are nonexistent, contradictory or purposefully unhelpful. Alta's NYFD colleagues are hostile and her partner refuses to talk. Prager looks and feels like death not only approaching but well warmed over, but he keeps plugging away. All the while he reflects on life, his past cases, his former NYPD colleagues, his friends and his enemies. On occasion, he crosses the line between reflection and self-pity but not so often or so far that I felt like closing the pages on his investigation.

Prager's inquiry into Alta Conseco's murder provides a good look at the power structure of the NYFD and how an ex-cop turned private eye goes about his job, following leads and collecting favors owed. Prager is an old hand at the detective game. He describes and sizes up people well. He's very familiar with New York's neighborhoods. Now possibly nearing the end of his life, he's not the only one with regrets. The more time I spent with him the more I regretted that I haven't yet read the previous books in this mystery-awards-laden hardboiled series beginning with Walking the Perfect Square. It isn't necessary to have read the previous books, but it is well advised. Prager's reminisces provide details of previous cases and what happens to old acquaintances.

In Hurt Machine, Prager's life may be winding down, but this means he actually understands how little he understands. "What I wanted was to know things before I died, to know things for sure," he says. When the book ends, his curiosity, at least about this particular case, is satisfied. My curiosity was satisfied and so was my desire for a good book to read.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sweetheart Sleuths Unveiled

Answers to Sweethearts Sleuths Quiz of Tuesday, February 14th

1. Lady Emily Ashton is Colin Hargreaves' fiancée in Tasha Alexander's historical mystery series that begins with And Only To Deceive.

2. Albert Campion's heart is captured by Amanda Pontisbright, who later becomes his wife. She first appears in Sweet Danger, the fifth in Margery Allingham's Campion series.

3. Detective Inspector Gemma James is married to Scotland Yard Superintendant Duncan Kincaid in Deborah Crombie's current novels, but in the first of the series, A Share in Death, she is just his eager assistant.

4. Alan Markby meets his love interest, Meredith Mitchell, in the first of Ann Granger's Mitchell and Markby series. She is a family member of the murderee in Say it with Poison.

5. Corinna Chapman, the baker and owner of Earthly Delights, a bakery in Melbourne, Australia, has the delight of Daniel Cohen in her life. This is the second series written by Kerry Greenwood. Cohen is ex-Israeli commando turned helper to the lost in Melbourne.

6. Rina Lazarus lives in wedded bliss with LAPD Detective Lieutenant Peter Decker in a series written by Faye Kellerman. The latest in this series is Gun Games.

7. Cop Charlie Piotrowski has needed Cupid's help to attract Professor Karen Pelletier in the Joanne Dobson series about an English Professor at Enfield College in Massachusetts.

8. Carol Jordan is a Detective Chief Inspector who hooks up with Dr. Tony Hill, a forensic psychologist and profiler in Val McDermid's series, which takes place in northern England. Their latest outing is The Retribution.

9. Chief Inspector Danny Lloyd is attracted to Inspector Judy Hill in Jill McGown's series, which takes place in East Anglia, England.

10. Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn meets the love of his life, Agatha Troy, while on vacation in Ngaio Marsh's Artists in Crime. There is an in-depth report later in this blog post.

11. Desiree Mitry is a Connecticut State Police Lieutenant who meets Mitch Berger, a film critic, in David Handler's A Cold Blue Blood.

12. Bill Smith is an army brat Private Investigator who partners with Lydia Chin in New York City to solve crimes. This series written by S.J. Rozan whose 2011 Ghost Hero is a finalist for the Dilys Award.

13. Harriet Vane is pursued by ardent amateur sleuth Sir Peter Wimsey through many volumes before she finally consents to be his Valentine. But when it comes to romance, the circumstances surrounding Strong Poison, the book in which these characters meet, do not give this couple an ideal start. Harriet Vane is on trial for murder at the time!

14. Sheriff Walt Longmire and Victoria Moretti are cops and  potential lovers in the wonderful Craig Johnson series based in Absaroka County, Wyoming. Their latest adventure is Hell Must be Empty and since I have not read it yet, for all I know they are still dancing the tango.

Ngaio Marsh's Artists in Crime

This is an example of how one couple still managed to get together even though they first meet under very inauspicious circumstances.

Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn has been having a long holiday in New Zealand, which turned out to be a busman's holiday, as chronicled in Vintage Murder. He has taken the long way home, starting with an ocean cruise that stopped at ports in Fiji, Hawaii and, lastly, San Francisco. While in the port of Suva, Fiji, his eye is caught by a lovely young artist, Agatha Troy. She is sitting on a lifeboat trying to capture the harbor scene. They seem to strike sparks off each other, so they avoid each other all the way from the ocean liner to the wonderful trip across Canada on the Canadian Pacific railroad.

Agatha Troy is going back to a household of art students whom she is to teach for the next several weeks. Alleyn, who still has some few days of leave left, is going to spend some time with his mother. These households are somewhat close to each other.

This is a motley crew of artists at Tatler's End, Troy,s home. The students and the model settle in for the painting of a recumbent nude. As with all artistic people, there are some disturbances, but the greatest of these is the murder of the vivacious young model. Since Alleyn is staying in the vicinity, he is asked to go to Tatler's End to investigate. Alleyn is not sure about this case because he really wants to follow his heart, which tells him that the woman he is falling in love with cannot possibly be a murderer. His head, on the other hand, is very well trained and he has associates who will keep his mind on the job.

Tatler's End
The cast of suspects is large, with so many people in the house, and much of the story revolves around who was where and when, then who left and at what time, and the merry-go-round typical of some classic mysteries. My eyes did glaze over once or twice with the recounting over and again of time schedules and itineraries.

All's well that ends well––except for the model who was, in any case, walking a perilous line. Readers of Marsh know that Alleyn and Troy are made for each other and are together in future books, so this is a delightful introduction to their relationship.

This cartoon from the New Yorker may represent all of our couples in the later years of their relationship.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Anticipation . . . is making me wait

It's no secret that we all have loads of TBRs (to-be-read books). Stacked on tables, on the floor, on shelves. Don't tell anybody, but I hear Georgette even has a large selection stashed in her car's trunk. But in spite of all those books sitting there waiting to be read, don't you enjoy investigating what books are on the horizon? Well, I do, and I know I'm not alone, even if some of you may deny it.

Here's a preview of upcoming books:

M. C. Beaton: Death of a Kingfisher (Hamish Macbeth). Scottish Police Constable Hamish Macbeth has been delighting readers since 1985, and now he's back for his 28th visit. Hamish investigates when vandalism threatens Braikie's new tourist trade, but soon the crimes escalate to murder.

Simon Brett: Guns in the Gallery (Fethering Mysteries). The frighteningly prolific Simon Brett returns to Fethering, on the English coast, for the 13th in this light series, which he began in 2000. Neighbors Carole and Jude poke their noses into the purported suicide of a young woman found dead in a yurt that is part of her wealthy family's new venture, "glamping;" i.e., glamorous camping.

John Burdett: Vulture Peak (Sonchai Jitpleecheep). Sonchai is one crazy character. His mother was a bar girl, his father some GI on R&R in Bangkok during the Vietnam War, his wife a former prostitute whom he met at his mother's bar. Sonchai used to be a Buddhist monk, but now he works for the Royal Thai Police, under the famous––but corrupt––Colonel Vikorn. In this fifth book in the series, Sonchai is put in charge of a task force out to eliminate trafficking in human organs.

Martin Edwards (editor): Guilty Consciences. An anthology of 17 British mystery stories, 16 never published elsewhere. Authors include Robert Barnard, Ann Cleeves and L. C. Tyler.

Joan Hess: Deader Homes and Gardens: A Claire Malloy Mystery. Arkansas bookstore owner Malloy returns from her honeymoon and is compelled to investigate murder and missing persons in her quest to buy her dream house.  Number 18 in the series.

Jonathan Kellerman: Victims: An Alex Delaware Novel. Psychologist Delaware investigates a series of gruesome killings whose victims seem completely unconnected. Number 26 in the long-running series.

Simon Kernick: Siege. This thriller focuses on various characters affected by a terrorist attack and hostage-taking at an upmarket hotel in London's Park Lane.

Simon Lelic: The Child Who. In this standalone psychological thriller, Leo Curtice is the defense attorney for a 12-year-old boy accused of murdering an 11-year-old girl. Community outrage over the case takes a sinister turn that threatens Curtice's own family.

Lisa Lutz: Trial of the Spellmans. Izzie Spellman, eldest child in the dysfunctional family of private investigators, finds that her family is acting even more strangely than usual. Her boyfriend Henry wants to have "the talk" and his mother is visiting. Do you know what the acronym "SNAFU" stands for? Number five in the series.

Anne Rice: The Wolf Gift. The doyenne of vampire fiction moves on to . . . werewolves. San Francisco journalist Reuben Golding is on assignment in Mendocino, reporting on an old mansion that was once the home of a wealthy man who went missing 20 years earlier. Anne Rice calls it a return to her gothic motifs: "the old dark house, a mysterious death, the promise of family secrets, and the supernatural monster as hero."

J. D. Robb: Celebrity in Death (Eve Dallas). When a murder occurs at a party celebrating the release of a film about a former case of hers, Lieutenant Eve Dallas is in the middle of the crime scene.

Peter Robinson: Before the Poison. In this standalone suspense story by the author of the DCI Alan Banks series, Hollywood film composer Chris Lowndes returns to his home in Yorkshire after the death of his beloved wife. He learns that his new house, Kilnsgate, had been the scene of the murder of its wealthy doctor owner by his wife, Grace Fox, who became one of the last women hanged in England. Chris feels compelled to learn more, as his troubled dreams confuse Grace with his dead wife, Laura. I received a free review copy of the book and found it atmospheric and compelling.

Dana Stabenow: Restless in the Grave (Kate Shugak).  In her 19th book in the series, Stabenow pairs up PI Shugak for the first time with Stabenow's other series character, Alaska State Trooper Liam Campbell.  The two investigate the case of an entrepreneur killed by the sabotage of his private plane.

Helene Tursten: Night Rounds: A Detective Inspector Irene Huss Investigation. Irene Huss, of the Violent Crimes Unit in Göteborg, Sweden, investigates the murder of one nurse and the disappearance of another when an electrical blackout hits their hospital. Ten Irene Huss novels have been published in Sweden, but this is only the fourth to be translated into English. As unfortunately often happens in translated crime fiction, the English-language titles are published out of order. This is the second book in the series, with the English publication order being one, three, five, and now two.  Who knows why number four, Kalit Mord (Cold Murder), has been skipped?

Marion Babson: No Cooperation from the Cat. Trixie Dolan and Evangeline Sinclair are aging London actresses. Trixie, Evangeline and their cat, Cho-Cho-San, become embroiled in a murder mystery after an unwanted guest is killed at their apartment.

Cara Black: Murder at the Lanterne Rouge: An Aimée Leduc Investigation. Hey, what happened to naming the books in this series after Paris neighborhoods? Aimée has been trying hard to be happy for her business partner René about his new girlfriend Meizi. But Aimée's suspicions about Meizi seem well-founded when Meizi disappears and a body is found shrink-wrapped in an alleyway with Meizi's picture in his wallet.

Rhys Bowen: Hush Now, Don't You Cry (Molly Murphy). In the 11th in this series set in early-20th-century New York, Molly is on her honeymoon and has promised her NYPD husband that she's given up sleuthing. But what's she to do when their honeymoon host is murdered?

C. J. Box: Force of Nature (Joe Pickett). Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett has a friend in trouble. For years, Nate Romanowski has been keeping the secret of a terrible act by a Special Forces colleague. But now that colleague is a powerful man who doesn't want to take chances. He will threaten Nate's friends and family to get Nate to come out in the open and make himself a target.

C. S. Challinor: Murder of the Bride (Rex Graves). Scottish barrister Rex Graves and his fiancée attend the wedding of a wealthy woman and a local man. The pair's families are at each other's throats, and now somebody seems determined to bump off an entire family.

Åke Edwardson: Sail of Stone (Erik Winter). Books in this Swedish series featuring Erik Winter of the Gothenburg police are slowly being translated into English. In this entry, Winter works on two very different missing-person cases.

Lyndsay Faye: The Gods of Gotham (Timothy Wilde). It's 1845 and Timothy Wilde joins the newly formed New York City Police Department, where he is assigned to a beat in the notorious Five Points neighborhood. The city is in a gangster free-for-all and battles between nativists and new Irish immigrants. Wilde is caught up in these forces as he investigates the murders of child prostitutes.

Christopher Fowler: The Memory of Blood: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery. The Peculiar Crimes Unit, led by Arthur Bryant and John May, are nearly as odd as the crimes they investigate. Fans of theater murders should be excited about number nine in the series. The team is called in when a theater owner's son is found murdered in a locked room at a cast party. With no forensic evidence, the only clue seems to be the frightening life-size Punch doll found by the body. Bryant, May, and the team must rush to solve the crime before the Home Office succeeds in getting them tossed off the case.

Kerry Greenwood: Cooking the Books: A Corinna Chapman Mystery. Melbourne, Australia, is the home of former banker Chapman, who now owns the Heavenly Delights bakery. Corinna is supposed to be taking some time off, but she agrees to do the catering for a soap opera and can't help but investigate hanky-panky there and a case of bullying at a corporation.

Jane Haddam: Blood in the Water (Gregor Demarkian). Rich bitch Martha Heydrich is the talk of the town because of her rumored affair with the teenaged Michael Platte. Gregor Demarkian investigates when two burned bodies are found in Martha's pool house––one Michael's and one unidentified––and Martha is missing.

Nick Harkaway: Angelmaker. Check out this book description: "Joe Spork spends his days fixing antique clocks. The son of the infamous London criminal Matthew "Tommy Gun" Spork, he has turned his back on his family's mobster history and aims to live a quiet life. That orderly existence is suddenly upended when Joe activates a particularly unusual clockwork mechanism. His client, Edie Banister, is more than the kindly old lady she appears to be––she's a retired international secret agent. And the device? It's a 1950s doomsday machine. Having triggered it, Joe now faces the wrath of both the British government and a diabolical South Asian dictator who is also Edie's old arch-nemesis."

C. S. Harris: When Maidens Mourn: A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery. Number seven in this series featuring an aristocratic investigator in Regency England.

Owen Laukkanen: The Professionals. Four college grads with no job prospects decide to go into business for themselves––as kidnappers targeting rich men. When they kidnap the wrong man, they are targeted by the law and the Mob.

Brad Parks: The Girl Next Door (Carter Ross). This third book in the Carter Ross series finds journalist Ross looking into the accidental death of a young woman, hoping to turn the tragedy into a human-interest story for his paper. But was the woman's death really an accident?

Richard North Patterson: Fall From Grace. Covert government agent Adam Blaine travels to Martha's Vineyard for his father's funeral. He begins to suspect that his father's death was murder, but his investigation exposes dark family secrets.

Thomas Perry: Poison Flower: A Jane Whitefield Novel. A cross-country thriller in which Jane must elude both the police and bad guys in an attempt to protect a man unjustly convicted of murdering his wife.

Olen Steinhauer: An American Spy (Milo Weaver). CIA "Tourist" agent Milo Weaver is recovering from a gunshot wound that felled him in The Nearest Exit, and is more determined than ever to stay out of the spy game, become a regular working stiff and family man. But his old boss, Alan Drummond, drags Milo into his scheme to avenge the murder of 33 Tourists orchestrated by Chinese security agent Xin Zhu.  I received a free review copy of this book and recommend it, though preferably for people already familiar with the preceding books, The Tourist and The Nearest Exit.

Andrew Vachss: That's How I Roll. Esau Till sits on death row, writing his memoirs. Not to justify his life, but to try to keep his brother safe after Esau is dead and gone.

Kate White: So Pretty It Hurts: A Bailey Weggins Mystery. Bailey, a young true-crime journalist, is invited to a winter weekend party at a music mogul's getaway home. When a young model is murdered, Bailey hopes she can solve the case before a coming blizzard traps the house party with a killer. Author White is editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine.

Kate Wilhelm: Death of an Artist. In the coastal Oregon town of Silver Bay, artist Stef dies in a tragic accident. But her mother and daughter are convinced that her death was murder and that her boyfriend did it to gain control of her art and its potential earnings. Together with a retired NYPD police detective, they try to get justice for Stef.

Jacqueline Winspear: Elegy for Eddie: A Maisie Dobbs Novel. In the ninth book in the series, Maisie investigates the 1931 death of a young street peddler from her old Lambeth neighborhood in London.

Nancy Atherton: Aunt Dimity and the Village Witch. Amelia Thistle, a famous artist with rabid, stalker-y fans, wants to stay below the radar when she moves to the village of Finch. She also wants to investigate some family history about an ancestor who may have been the Mad Witch of Finch. Finch's Lori Shepherd and ghost Aunt Dimity help out.

Libby Fischer Hellmann: A Bitter Veil. Hellmann, known for her Ellie Foreman and Georgia Davis series, takes a new tack with this thriller, set in Iran during the 1979 Islamic revolution. Chicago student Anna falls in love with fellow student Nouri and they marry. She returns with him to his home and wealthy family in 1978 Iran. Soon their lives are transformed by the Ayatollah Khomenei's revolution; Anna's most of all as she loses all the freedoms she's been used to all her life and learns that nobody in her new life can be trusted, including Nouri.

Philip Kerr: Prague Fatale (Bernie Gunther). Bernie Gunther, an investigator with Berlin's Kriminalpolizei, was forced out in the Nazi takeover and became a private investigator. Reinhard Heydrich, often called Hitler's Hangman, has just been named Reichsprotector of Czechoslovakia in 1941 and is throwing a big party to celebrate. When a member of Heydrich's staff is found murdered in a locked room, Heydrich forces Bernie onto the case. Bernie's investigations put him too close for comfort to some of Nazi Germany's most unsavory characters.

Donna Leon: Beastly Things: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery. This is the 21st Brunetti mystery in as many years. I don't know how these authors do it. This time around, Brunetti is investigating the case of a mysterious man found dead in a Venice canal.

Phillip Margolin: Capitol Murder. This thriller about a terrorist plot to blow up a football stadium during a Redskins game (most explosive thing that's happened at one of their games for quite awhile) features PI Dana Cutler and attorney Brad Miller, who have appeared in two previous Margolin books.

Seicho Matsumoto: Pro Bono. When Kiriko Yanagida is spurned by the lawyer she consults to help her brother escape a murder conviction, she decides to take matters into her own hands.

Anne Perry: Dorchester Terrace: A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Novel. Thomas Pitt, who started at the bottom in London's police has been made the head of Special Branch. His promotion may be his undoing, as he must contend with a possible terrorist plot to blow up a rail line to kill a visiting member of the Austro-Hungarian empire's royal family.

R. T. Raichev: The Murder of Gonzago: An Antonia Darcy and Major Payne Investigation. The duo of Antonia Darcy and Hugh Payne investigate what they believe is the murder of Lord Remnant in front of an audience while putting on an amateur performance of The Murder of Gonzago, the Hamlet play-within-a-play.

Ann B. Ross: Miss Julia to the Rescue. Number 13 in this comedic cozy series featuring an elderly lady in Abbotsville, North Carolina.

James Runcie: Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death: The Grantchester Mysteries. In this new series written by the son of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Sidney Chambers is the young, handsome Vicar of Grantchester, a lover of cricket, beer and jazz. Along with his friend, Inspector Geordie Keating, Sidney investigates several crimes in Grantchester, including a murder, a jewelry heist and an art forgery. British mysteries featuring vicars are suddenly popular, what with this one and G. M. Malliett's new Max Tudor series, which debuted a few months ago.

Alexander McCall Smith: The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection: No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. Number 13 in this popular series about Botswana's Precious Ramotswe and assistant Grace Makutsi.

Joseph Wambaugh: Harbor Nocturne. A Los Angeles longshoreman falls in love with a Mexican dancer and both are endangered when she witnesses evidence of human trafficking. The San Pedro Harbor police and characters from Wambaugh's Hollywood Station series investigate.

Chris Grabenstein: Fun House: A John Ceepak Mystery. When a Jersey Shore kind of reality show begins filming in Sea Haven, Ceepak and his partner, Danny Boyle, have their hands full, especially when one cast member is murdered and another is in danger.

Victoria Thompson: Murder On Fifth Avenue (Sarah Brandt). Number 14 in this series about Sarah Brandt, a midwife in 19th-century New York City.

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Do any of these upcoming books get your pulse racing? Do you know of any other good titles coming up in the next few months?