Friday, March 28, 2014

Review of Robert Harris's An Officer and a Spy

An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

I knew the basics of the Dreyfus Affair, but what I didn't know is that the most interesting parts of the story happen when Captain Albert Dreyfus is offstage. First off, I should say that although An Officer and a Spy (Knopf, January 2014) is classified as fiction, author Robert Harris tells us that his goal is to use the techniques of a novel to retell the true story of the Dreyfus Affair. The characters and the events are real.

The central figure in this dramatic story is Colonel Georges Picquart. As someone who had become acquainted with Dreyfus some years earlier, when Dreyfus was a young officer training at the military college where Picquart taught, Picquart was present at Dreyfus's October 1894 arrest by the army on charges of passing secret military information to German agents. Picquart had no trouble believing in Dreyfus's guilt, in part because Picquart was an anti-Semite, as most soldiers were, unfortunately.

Dreyfus was convicted a few months later and sentenced to life imprisonment in terrible conditions on Devil's Island, 8,000 miles from France. He left behind a young wife, two small children and other family members who were determined to use the family's considerable wealth to exonerate Dreyfus.

None of this was of any particular interest to Picquart, until he was assigned, shortly after Dreyfus's conviction, to become the chief of the military's secret intelligence bureau, called the "Statistical Section." Almost by accident, Picquart soon discovered that the evidence against Dreyfus was almost nonexistent, but that there was good evidence that the real traitor was a womanizer, gambler and cheat, Major Walsin Esterhazy.

This is the set-up to what becomes a story that would be too unbelievable as an original piece of fiction. But it's only too plausible today, when we've become jaded by seeing how, all over the world, political, military, religious forces and their associates often place their own institutional interests above quaint concepts like truth, honor and justice. Dreyfus, Picquart and other individuals were just pawns in a chess game for the various institutions' visions of the future of France and its military. But chess game is putting it too politely. This was a game of double-dealing, dirty tricks, and possibly even murder.

The late 19th century was a time of ferment in France. The French Republic was in its infancy and besieged by monarchists, the Catholic Church and the military on one side, and socialists and anti-clericalists on the other. The Army, having suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Germany in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71, was rigid, hidebound and reactionary. The warring sides seized on the Dreyfus Affair to carry their messages, inciting a press war, whipping up the populace to riotous demonstrations and bringing the country to the brink of civil war.

Robert Harris, probably best known for his masterful novel of alternate history, Fatherland, has brought history vividly to life here. He slowly and deliberately establishes his story, but by about halfway through, events are rolling forward like a steam engine at peak running speed. Even if you already know exactly how the historical events unfolded, I think you'll find it as hard as I did to put the book down.

Harris's character portrait of Picquart paints him as more attractive than he probably was in real life. Harris doesn't make him an out-and-out hero, but he underplays Picquart's anti-Semitism as much as possible. He emphasizes that Picquart is an anti-clerical. I'm not at all sure there is much evidence for Picquart's anti-clericalism, but it helps illustrate the larger forces at work behind the Dreyfus case. And, although we don't get inside Picquart's heart and mind deeply, Harris so well describes the effect of him on the endless inquiries, trials and re-trials: "I am the founder of the school of Dreyfus studies: its leading scholar, its star professor--there is nothing I can be asked about my specialist field that I do not know: every letter and telegram, every personality, every forgery, every lie."

Harris also makes several of the Army officers almost comic-opera villains, especially Major Armand Mercier du Paty de Clam. Who knows, though; that may be accurate. Mercier du Paty de Clam (amazing name, isn't it?) was the officer principally responsible for identifying the officer who was passing secrets to the Germans. His choice of Dreyfus as the culprit seems to have been motivated by little more than Mercier du Paty de Clam's rabid anti-Semitism. And the apple didn't fall far from the tree. Mercier du Paty de Clam's son, Charles Armand Auguste Ferdinand Mercier du Paty de Clam, became Commissioner General for Jewish Affairs in the Nazi collaborationist Vichy government during World War II.

I wish Harris could have worked in more detail about the political ferment behind the events described in the book, but I recognize what a challenge that would have been. Despite not having that stronger historical foundation, and some possible oversimplification of the characters, this was a completely riveting read. It's the kind of book that will stay in my mind for hours or days to come.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Waiting for Spring

You could see the spring coming each day until a night of warm wind would bring it suddenly in one morning. Sometimes the heavy cold rains would beat it back so that it would seem that it would never come and that you were losing a season out of your life.  
                            ––Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

These days, hardly a week passes without the promise of another snowfall, and while I have been waiting for whatever is to follow storms Vulcan and Wiley, I have to hold myself back from sticking plastic yellow daffodils and silk flower lilacs in the ground to fool myself into thinking spring has sprung. But in the spirit of new beginnings, I have found several new series that are helping me pass the time.

The first is from Maurizio de Giovanni, who started his writing career in Naples, Italy, when he won a writing competition with a short story set in the 1930s about Commissario Luigi Ricciardi. He followed this up with a quartet of crime novels involving this extraordinary protagonist.

In the first book of the series, I Will Have Vengeance, Ricciardi is one of the most successful of the homicide detectives in the Naples police force. He is a man with no friends, no woman, no social life; just a bunch of scars on his lonely, tormented soul. Still, there is one of his co-workers who is genuinely attached to him, and that is Brigadier Rafaele Maione, his staunch ally and partner.

When he was just a boy, Ricciardi was walking in the woods when he saw a man sitting on the ground under a vine. There was a knife protruding from his chest and a puddle of dark fluid was on the ground. The man, who must have been dead, turned to Luigi Alfredo and said, "By God, I didn't touch your wife." Time stood still for the boy.

Later on, he always thought of the event as the Incident. He had more such incidents, but he learned to keep them to himself lest everyone think he was nuts. He accepted that he saw the dead. Not all of them, and not for long, and only those who had died violently. Even then, he saw the dead ones only for the short time, fraught with extreme emotion, as they revealed their final thought. Ricciardi felt that being a policeman was probably the only profession that could help him deal with the things he was seeing.

The action takes place during a bitter windy March in 1931 (I can sympathize), in an Italy that is struggling to come to grips with the changes brought by fascism. The police are particularly affected, because they have been told by the authorities that in a well-regulated society, there is no crime––since there is no need for it. Ricciardi, on the other hand, has learned from the Incident that hunger and love are the source of all atrocities––and he is not referring to the goings-on in the more famous Eden.

One evening at the Royal Theater of San Carlos during a double opera offering of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, one of the foremost tenors in the world, Arnaldo Vezzi, is found murdered. Ricciardi, when he gets to the scene of the crime, has a few moments all alone with the victim and he listens to what the body has to say. In this case it sings, "I will have vengeance," some of the same words heard in the opera tonight.

Arnaldo Vezzi was adored by millions and hated by hundreds because he was arrogant, mean and brutal, but the powers that be are up in arms at losing such a famed Italian singer, and Ricciardi has his work cut out for him. In the end, I really wanted to introduce him to Harry Bingham's Fiona Griffiths, a Welsh detective who has something in common with him. She sees dead people too, and talks to them. She could pose the big question of whodunnit, and the corpse could give the answer to Ricciardi. These two detectives would complement each other beautifully and they could kiss their loneliness arrivederci.

If you liked other mysteries in the operatic vein, like Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon, Murder in the Pit by Erica Miner, Murder Duet: A Musical Case by Batya Gur, Barbara Paul's Opera series or Susannah Stacey's A Knife at the Opera, you might enjoy this story. It is, however, darker, more intense and very gripping. De Giovanni takes the reader back in time, with his descriptions of what ordinary life was like in this part of the world. He uses small details of hair grooming and clothing to help set the scenes in the days of the 1930s. I can't wait to get a copy of the next book, Blood Curse.

On the other hand, one person's spring is another person's dead of winter. Victoria Houston authors a series that plays out in the lake region of northern Wisconsin. When retired dentist Paul Osborne goes kayaking in late March, looking for likely fishing spots, he calls it spring. When I learned that it still dropped to ten below at night, I would have called it something else.

In Dead Angler, the first of the series, Paul is recuperating from the death of his wife, which had led him into an alcohol-fueled downward spiral. But now, in recovery, he has been tidying up his home that fronts on Loon Lake. Deciding to get rid of some fly-fishing gear that he had not used in a while, he takes it to a friend who convinces him to take up the sport again, and he sets Paul up for a few refresher lessons. His tutor turns out to be the recently-installed Chief of Police, Lewellyn Ferris, who just happens to be a female who can really show him a thing or two about fly fishing. The first thing Paul gets on his line, however, is a dead body, hardly recognizable, except that Paul thinks he recognizes the teeth. In his youth, Paul had been in the military and was experienced in forensic dentistry.

You guessed it! Paul teams up with Lew to help take a bite out of crime and the series is delightful, since it combines murder and mayhem with the poetry of fly fishing. On the breaks from investigating the murder, spending time in the water is the order of the day. Paul is reconnected with the harmony of nature, because he senses that only fly fishing can take you so close to the heart of the water. But he has a lot to learn. This type of fishing is defined by conventions more confusing than a game of bridge. The angler has to have an arcane knowledge of the life cycles of the insects hatching at that very moment––not 30 minutes earlier, and then select the perfect fly to match it.

There is a particular movement called "dancing the fly" in which fisherman chooses not to reel in, but to simply dance the dry fly across the currents to tantalize the big ones lurking below. Expert fly fisher that Lew is, she also uses this movement to lure the bad guys into giving themselves up.

Houston’s stories are original, with excellent plotting and while I am not in the mood to visit Wisconsin at the moment, I plan to trip my way through this series, because I've developed a small addiction to it.

If you are a fisherman, there is another series by Keith McCafferty that has a backdrop of fly fishing in Montana. It begins with The Royal Wulff Murders, which is a fantastic introduction both to the sport and this part of the country. It is endorsed by two of my favorite authors, Patrick McManus and Craig Johnson. The third in the series, Dead Man's Fancy, was published by Viking in January 2014. They feature Sheriff Martha Ettinger and Sean Stranahan, a fishing, painting PI.

I am taking heart from these words: "In those days, though, the spring always came finally but it was frightening that it had nearly failed." Ernest Hemingway, "Waiting on Spring," A Moveable Feast

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Martian and the Chicken from Hell

OD-ing can happen to you. For example, Harry Bosch and Harry Hole are wonderful, but too much of their company day after day, and they become those dinner guests who have forgotten how to go home. Or, take the case of reading a lot in the same subgenre. By the time you get to the seventh straight book of espionage, it's like eating nothing but pizza for a week.

It's good to cleanse your reading palate. Read something different from your usual fare. No matter what you commonly serve yourself, you can't go wrong with one of the two books below. They're different, period.

Calling all geeks: your ship has come in. But science-phobic people who scratch their heads at the idea that water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen can still enjoy The Martian by Andy Weir (Crown, February 2014). You can even skim the scientific details and get the gist, but I hope you don't. Weir, a long-time outer space aficionado, explains it very clearly. I know already this will be one of my favorite books this year.

In a nutshell, it's about astronaut Mark Watney's quest to remain alive after his Ares 3 crewmates, who believe he's dead, abandon him on Mars without any means of communication. Mark is a botanist, a mechanical engineer, and a Mr. Fix-It. He's also blessed with a terrific sense of black humor and determination to survive. He'll need both, as he'll run out of food and water long before the next mission to Mars arrives in four years. We read the journal entries (beginning with "I'm pretty much fucked"), in which Mark records his goals, games out how he'll overcome the problems involved, and then explains why those efforts failed and what he'll try next. It's fascinating to read about NASA's back-up systems in the Hab and rover and to watch Mark go about his jerry-rigging, which never becomes repetitious. I became attached to this inventive and likable astronaut and laughed as he breaks up the water making and farming with droll comments about his crewmates' love of 1970s TV and disco music. Mark is just so darn human.

Russia recently brought back mice and newts
from an orbit around Mars (Getty photo)
A few months after Mark was left, satellite pictures convince a thunderstruck NASA that he is still alive. Then, the novel alternates between Mark's journal entries, Ares 3 in space, and NASA on Earth. (I loved the response from China's space program and the American agency's in-fighting and political maneuvering; NASA's PR woman gushes that CNN's top-rated show in its time slot, The Watney Report, will engage the public in Mark's situation, and this means more money from Congress.) This is the best kind of Robinson Crusoe-in-space novel: a plan is formulated to bring Mark, the loneliest man in the universe, home. I finished it with a renewed respect for the crazy nobility of astronauts, the can-do attitude of scientists in the face of no time or money, and the good in humankind. It's an out-of-this-world read.

Speaking of out of this world, maybe you saw the recent Washington Post article about the discovery of dinosaur fossils at the Hell Creek Formation in North and South Dakota. The fossils form a picture of "a freakish, birdlike species of dinosaur—11 feet long, 500 pounds, with a beak, no teeth, a bony crest atop its head, murderous claws, prize-fighter arms, spindly legs, a thin tail and feathers sprouting all over the place."

This "Chicken from Hell" would delight Prof. Lars Helland and Dr. Erik Tybjerg at the University of Copenhagen in S. J. Gazan's The Dinosaur Feather (trans. from the Danish by Charlotte Barslund, Quercus, 2013). It would also thrill Canada's top scientific magazine editor, Jack Jarvis, but it would enrage his old friend, University of British Columbia paleo-ornithologist Dr. Clive Freeman. These men are combatants in a debate that has engaged scientists for 150 years: are birds present-day dinosaurs or do they originate from an even earlier primitive reptile?

Sifting through the arguments about this question is Anna Bella Nor, a single mother who's frantically writing her master of science dissertation at the University of Copenhagen. She's always full of rage. Her three-year-old daughter, Lily, is a handful. Anna isn't on the best of terms currently with her parents, and she has no time for her old friends. Anna loathes her dissertation supervisor, Prof. Helland, for being unavailable and impossible to talk to when he is available. Recently, he has been looking and acting very strange. When he's found dead, sprawled in his office reclining chair, his severed tongue on his lap, it barely grieves Anna, who now must depend on the guidance of the reclusive Dr. Tybjerg, who disappears into the University's Natural History Museum, and her office-mate, Johannes Trøjborg, who looks weird and is weird, albeit kind. She barely has time for "the World's Most Irritating Detective," Søren Marhauge, Denmark's youngest police superintendent.

Søren is 37 years old, and "he could identify a murderer from the mere twitching of a single, out-of-place eyebrow hair, he could knit backward, and everyone he had ever loved had died and left him behind." Although he has a perfect record for solving criminal cases, his losses have left Søren a big, unresolved mess. His long-term girlfriend, Vibe, has now married another man. At the same time Søren investigates Helland's murder—and, shortly thereafter, another death in this case—he finds himself investigating his own past in order to understand his unhappy present.

Joining him in parallel personal odysseys into the mysteries of their pasts are Johannes and Anna. Unlike these three Danes, Canadian scientists Jarvis and Freeman don't do their own digging; writer Gazan excavates their joint history for us. This makes for a very unusual book, in which everyone—detective, suspects, their connections, and the reader—is trying to figure out questions involving identity, in one form or another. In addition to this interesting "all-hands-on-deck" approach to various mystery investigations, Gazan, who earned a biology degree, serves up an incredibly fascinating scientific debate. Her experience in academia is reflected in the book characters' believability. They engage in a genuine scholarly search for information that's affected by their personal biases and professional jealousies, as they race to publish and defend their findings. I read this book at the suggestion of my fellow Material Witness, Periphera, who knew I'd appreciate Gazan's depiction of the forces that drive university research and politics, and the biological knowledge that gives her book some very unsettling moments and a highly unusual (thank goodness!) method of murder.

So, take your pick of these two distinctive books. A yen for surviving in outer space or a look at the dinosaurs that walked the Earth long ago and still fly among us? Or don't choose between them: I highly recommend them both.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Standing All Alone

Our good friend Lady Jane Digby's Ghost is back with another guest post.

For my first two posts on Read Me Deadly, I wrote about mystery book series. In this third post, I'd like to talk about "one-offs" or stand-alone mysteries.

Way back in 2006, I discovered a novel called Berlin. It was written by Pierre Frei, and was the only book he had published in English. His work was translated into English by Anthea Bell, a noted translator from German to English.

Berlin was an international best-seller, and is the story of a police investigation set in postwar Berlin, after it had been divided up by the four Allied powers. A number of women had been found brutally murdered, and the case was assigned to both a local German policeman and an American MP.

The most interesting thing about the book was the focus on the victims of the strangler. All were blonde women who had survived the war and had helped out in anti-Nazi work. This look at victims and their lives was a welcome change from most books, whose focus on women victims are on their beauty and sexiness and are often times reduced to . . . numbers.

But in Frei’s Berlin, these victims' lives meant something and they would be missed. I also assumed that since the author was born in 1930 and had lived in Berlin at the end of the war, the young man featured in the story––the son of the German cop––was Pierre Frei. Berlin is a fascinating look at postwar Berlin through the eyes of a young man. And at some women who tried to make a difference in the desperate times of World War II Germany.

Another book set in postwar Berlin, and featuring German police paired with Allied officers, is Horst Bosetzky's Cold Angel. Bosetzky has written a wonderfully inventive book, set in 1949, about what seems to be a true crime. The reader learns pretty early in the book who committed the murders. Bosetzky fleshes out the victims, murderer, police, and politicians who are involved. He includes a love story––will the policewoman-from-the-East and lawyer-from-the-West find lasting love despite political differences? And how and why were two innocent Berliners murdered, cut up in pieces, and distributed over the vast city of Berlin? Cold Angel is Horst Bosetzky's first book translated into English and well worth looking into.

Irish author John Boyne has written seven or so adult novels, and others for children. Among his books is The Absolutist, which was published in 2012. It is the story of two British World War I soldiers who are bonded through the terrors of the trenches and the horrors of warfare. One survives––forever damaged––and the other one is brought down by a firing squad on charges of cowardice. I think it should be considered a historical mystery because the secrets that one man takes to his grave and the other takes back to England are cunningly doled out to the reader. Boyne is an interesting writer; he never seems to return to the same setting or time twice. (One of his other excellent historical mysteries is The House of Special Purpose, about the last Russian Tsar and his family.)

Staying with World War I, please look at British author Catherine Bailey's The Secret Rooms (Penguin, 2013), a nonfiction book about the Manners family and their family castle, Belvoir. This book, entertainingly subtitled A True Story of a Haunted Castle, a Plotting Duchess, and a Family Secret, is more of a personal mystery. Why was the Duke of Rutland, who died in 1940, trying to protect the family's name and make sure a secret from the Great War never saw the light of day? What was Rutland trying to hide, and why was he trying to hide it? In her fascinating book, Bailey takes the reader though the last 30 years or so of the 19th century and into the first half of the 20th. By looking at these years through the mysteries of the Manners family, the reader is exposed to an amazing recap of both family and societal history.

And if you like British mysteries, check out Unfaithfully Yours, by Nigel Williams (Corsair, January 16, 2014). Williams is also a prolific writer who never returns to the same characters or plots.
Unfaithfully Yours is a truly hysterical novel about the––possible––murder of a wife in the London suburb of Putney. It's told totally in epistolary form.

Four couples, who used to be friends, have grown apart. They were friends because their children went to school together, and when the children grew up and left home, the reason for the parents' friendship ended. In 2000, one of the wives was found dead in her living room, the supposed victim of suicide. Ten or so years later, the group of former friends is brought together by a private detective, supposedly hired to look into the philandering by one of the husbands, Gerry Price, QC, who is married to a Classics teacher, Elizabeth Price. Who hired the detective is one of the mysteries that doesn't get solved until the book's end. Most of the characters are completely vile, and the few that aren't are partially vile. But it is a fun read about life in today's striving Surrey.

So, there are a few one-offs. I can think of many more and I bet you can, too. Let us know of some of your favorites.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Magical Realism, Art Heists, and the Ghost of Chagall

Chagall - The Promenade

Last week, we had a couple of those warm, sun-kissed days that promise the winter weary that spring is, after all, coming this year. Out for a walk, I felt such delirious joie de vivre that my feet could easily have left the ground with each next step. Which turned my idle musings to the artist, Marc Chagall.

There was nothing remotely earthbound about Chagall; his vivid subjects swirl into the air and soar above the ground in fantastic and exotic dances. He somehow managed to survive two world wars and Stalin's vicious anti-Semitic pogroms with his exuberant appetite for life and color undiminished. Incredibly prolific, in addition to paintings and murals, Chagall created soaring stained glass windows in churches, synagogues, and museums around the world, illustrated several books, including the Bible, and designed a number of stage sets over his long career.

In Dara Horn's The World to Come, Benjamin Ziskind, legally blind writer of questions for the game show American Genius, had never planned to steal the Chagall painting from the exhibit at the Jewish Museum. He had become a virtual hermit after his recent divorce, so his twin sister, Sara, and her husband pushed him to attend the museum's Chagall exhibit and associated singles' cocktail party one Sunday. As the exhibit room emptied and people moved downstairs for drinking and dancing, Ben found himself alone, facing a small painting that looked very familiar. It must be a similar study, he thought; it couldn't possibly be the picture his then-widowed mother had sold to fund her children's education, could it? When he recognized the spot of clear nail polish that then seven-year-old Sara had painted on the corner, Ben lifted the painting from the wall, tucked it under his coat, and left. No alarm or guard stopped him.

We are then carried back to the story of Ben's great-grandfather, Boris Kulbak, who as a child received the painting from the hands of Chagall himself. Boris was a student at the Jewish Orphaned Boys' Colony in Malakhovka. Like many of the boys there, Boris had seen his parents butchered, and his unborn sibling cut from his mother's womb and thrown out of a window. Boris escaped, and huddled in an open grave for two days before he was found and taken to the orphanage. Chagall, an art teacher at the school, was so impressed with Boris's passionate painting of his family's slaughter that he offered one of his own in exchange.

The theft at the beginning of this story was a real event, which occurred in 2001, at an exhibit of Chagall's work at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan. A painting called Study for Over Vitebsk, valued at over a million dollars, disappeared during a cocktail party highlighting the exhibit. Three days later, a letter arrived from a group calling itselfx The International Committee for Art and Peace demanding peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine as the price of the painting's return, and accurately citing secret markings on the painting. Eight months later, the painting was recovered, returned as an undeliverable package to a post office in Topeka, Kansas. No arrests were made, and no further public information on the group is available.

Beautifully written, The World to Come manages to cram four generations of history into its scant three hundred pages. The story washes through the 20th century from the brutal purges of the early Soviet era through the Vietnam War, to today and back. There was material for at least two––possibly three––books here, jumbled together with the very thinnest of connecting threads. The theft of the painting is merely a skeletal framework for the long middle of the story, an exposition of the fate of Der Nister, a Jewish writer, under Stalin's brutal pogroms. Chagall himself was dismissed early on and never reappeared. I learned from the Afterword that many of the frequent dream sequences and flashbacks were based on historical Yiddish folk tales. Had I known that before reading the book, they might have seemed less arcane intrusions. Many people loved it––you may too, but for me it managed to be bloody, precious, and disjointed all at the same time.

Chagall - The Red Cottage
Chagall's exuberant art and personality benefit from a lighter and more playful touch, which author Jill Koenigsdorf gleefully delivers in her debut novel, Phoebe and the Ghost of Chagall. When I read the opening sentence of the first chapter, I settled right in with a smile and that comfortable "tell me a story" feeling:

"Marc Chagall appeared exactly twenty-five years after his death, in the twenty-first century, in the brightly tiled wonderment of Phoebe's kitchen in Sonoma, California."

Phoebe's tiny cottage, studio, and half-acre of land are her personal enchanted place. An artist who earns a meager living designing wine bottle labels, she has decorated every inch of her space with brightly colored art. Her land grows anything abundantly; a cherry pit spit out in the yard will be a foot tall in a few months. But with the recession, Phoebe's hours and wages have been cut back, and she is in acute danger of losing her bit of paradise.

Chagall - The Dance
Chagall appears in time to watch Phoebe's daughter Aubrey preparing a surprise 40th birthday party for her mother. He knows that he was sent here to help Phoebe recover one of his paintings, a birthright that was stolen from her father before she was born. Where it is and how that can be accomplished, he has no idea. Only Phoebe and her dogs can see the oddly dressed man at her party.

But Chagall has a second, secret agenda. During the First World War, over a hundred of his paintings had been stolen from his Paris studio, while he was home in Russia marrying his sweetheart. Very few were ever recovered, and Chagall wants them found and on display to the public. When a friend is injured and offers the non-refundable biking tour of the French countryside she had booked to Phoebe, Chagall urges her to accept, despite her financial woes.

When ghosts and country witches get involved, almost anything is possible, so perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised when the tour is booked into the exact little bed-and-breakfast among the fields of lavender where Phoebe's stolen painting has been hidden in a beehive for generations.

Phoebe and the Ghost of Chagall skillfully weaves quirky characters and occasionally slapstick events with some interesting and well-written biographical detail, and the very large international problem of stolen art into a completely satisfying tapestry, and all in beautiful settings. The story was a good match to the fantastic and colorful art of Chagall, and I look forward to reading more from this author.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Spring Preview 2014: Part Nine

As our St. Patrick's Day gift to you, we're giving you a parade's worth of upcoming spring books that caught our eyes. Which ones will go on your wish list?

Ackroyd: Three Brothers (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, March 4, 2014).

Frei Betto: Hotel Brasil: The Mystery of the Severed Heads (trans. from the Portuguese by Jethro Soutar, Bitter Lemon (Consortium, dist.), March 1, 2014).

Kenneth Calhoun: Black Moon (Hogarth/Crown, March 4, 2014).

Teju Cole: Every Day Is for the Thief (Random House, March 25, 2014).

Reed Farrel Coleman: The Hollow Girl (Tyrus Books, May 18, 2014).

Gary Corby: The Marathon Conspiracy (Soho Crime, April 29, 2014).

William Dietrich: The Three Emperors : An Ethan Gage Adventure (Harper/HarperCollins, May 6, 2014).

David Downing: Jack of Spies (Soho Crime, May 13, 2014).

Kjell Eriksson and Ebba Segerberg: Black Lies, Red Blood (Minotaur, April 29, 2014).

Loren D. Estleman: Don't Look for Me: An Amos Walker Novel (Forge, March 18, 2014).

Joshua Ferris: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (Little, Brown, May 13, 2014).

Anne Fortier: The Lost Sisterhood (Ballantine, March 11, 2014).

Brian Freeman: The Cold Nowhere (Quercus, April 1, 2014).

Nicci French: Waiting for Wednesday: A Frieda Klein Mystery (Pamela Dorman/Penguin Group (USA), April 3, 2014).

Steven Galloway: The Confabulist (Riverhead, May 6, 2014).

James Grippando: Black Horizon (Harper/HarperCollins, March 4, 2014).

Andrew Gross: Everything to Lose (Morrow/HarperCollins, April 22, 2014).

Mo Hayder: Wolf (Atlantic Monthly, April 1, 2014).

Elizabeth Haynes: Under a Silent Moon (Harper/HarperCollins, April 1, 2014).

Janet Hubbard: Bordeaux: The Bitter Finish: A Vengeance in the Vineyard Mystery (Poisoned Pen, April 1, 2014).

Claire Kendal: The Book of You (Harper/HarperCollins, April 1, 2014).

Matthew Klein: No Way Back (Pegasus Crime, April 1, 2014).

Jean Hanff Korelitz: You Should Have Known (Grand Central, March 18, 2014).

Violet Kupersmith: The Frangipani Hotel (Random House/Spiegel & Grau, April 1, 2014).

Camilla Lackberg: The Hidden Child (Pegasus/W.W. Norton, May 15, 2014).

Donna Leon: By Its Cover (Atlantic Monthly, April 1, 2014).

Sarah Lotz: The Three (Little, Brown, May 20, 2014).

Liza Marklund: The Long Shadow (trans. from the Swedish by Neil Smith, Atria/Emily Bestler, April 15, 2014).

Colette McBeth: Precious Thing (Minotaur, March 4, 2014).

Val McDermid: Northanger Abbey (Grove, April 15, 2014).

Adrian McKinty: In the Morning I'll be Gone: A Detective Sen Duffy Novel (Prometheus/Seventh Street, March 4, 2014).

Jenny Milchman: Ruin Falls (Ballantine, April 22, 2014).

Nicole Mones: Night in Shanghai (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 4, 2014).

Simon Sebag Montefiore: One Night in Winter (Harper/HarperCollins, May 6, 2014).

D.-L. Nelson: Murder on Insel Poel (Five Star, March 1, 2014).

Howard Norman: The Next Life Might Be Kinder (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 15, 2014).

Joyce Carol Oates: High Crime Area (Grove/Atlantic Monthly/Mysterious Press, April 1, 2014).

Brad Parks: The Player (Minotaur, March 4, 2014).

Anne Perry: Death on Blackheath: A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Novel (Ballantine, March 25, 2014).

Francine Prose: Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 (Harper/HarperCollins, April 22, 2014).

Matthew Quirk: The Directive (Little, Brown, May 27, 2014).

Michael Robotham: Watching You (Mulholland Books, March 11, 2014).

Linda Rodriguez: Every Hidden Fear (Minotaur, May 6, 2014).

M. J. Rose: The Collector of Dying Breaths : A Novel of Suspense (Atria, April 8, 2014).

Karin Salvalaggio: Bone Dust White (Minotaur, May 13, 2014).

Lisa Scottoline: Keep Quiet (St. Martin's, April 8, 2014).

Nina Siegal: The Anatomy Lesson (Nan A. Talese/Random House, March 11, 2014).

Sally Spencer: Death's Dark Shadow (Severn House, March 1, 2014).

John Spurling: The Ten Thousand Things (Overlook, April 10, 2014).

Dennis Tafoya: The Poor Boy's Game (Minotaur, April 29, 2014).

Rupert Thomson: Secrecy (Other Press, April 22, 2014).

Steve Ulfelder: Wolverine Bros. Freight & Storage: A Conway Sax Mystery (Minotaur, May 6, 2014).

Ayelet Waldman: Love and Treasure (Knopf, April 1, 2014).

Anne Zouroudi: The Lady of Sorrows: A Seven Deadly Sins Mystery (Little, Brown, March 25, 2014).