Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Spring Preview 2014 : Part Four

This is the perfect time of year to make lists of good books to read, because the month of March is labelled the "reading month." This is a great time for you to grab your pen and paper or your list app and add to or plunge into your TBR list!

Publishers Weekly, the international news website of book publishing and book selling, estimates that 53% of readers read fiction, which surprises me as I found it on the low side. I was not surprised to find that the favorite fiction category is mystery and suspense. We're here to help that statistic along.

My persistently cold fingers and nose tip always warm up when I get deep into mysterious goings-on in warm climates, so I am looking forward to Bone Deep by Randy Wayne White (Putnam, March 4, 2014).

Randy Wayne White has been writing about Marion Ford, a/k/a "Doc," for more than 20 years. Doc is a marine biologist working out of Sanibel, Florida, where the denizens count on warm sunny weather. In Bone Deep, Doc and his long time pal, Tomlinson, are asked to search for a pair of stone carvings stolen from Crow tribal lands in Montana. The signs point to their location in Bone Valley, an area in central Florida, known for plentiful black-market fossils and artifacts, as well as a significant phosphate mining industry.

Neither of these businesses welcomes outsiders, much less nosy investigators. Adding to the excitement, is the problem that Doc and Tomlinson are not the only ones looking for the Crow treasures––and in these mines, corpses have been known to molder for years.

My college mates are planning a spring trip to Italy; they are all retired and not geezers yet. I may join them but only in spirit, as I plan to jump into a few books with an Italian background. A Few Drops of Blood (Soho Crime, April 22, 2014) is the second mystery by Jan Merete Weiss featuring Capitan Natalia Monte of the Carabiniere, who is assigned to a double murder case after two bodies are discovered in the garden of an aging countess. The bodies are posed in a shocking fashion that points to the artists and owners of the decadent art galleries found in downtown Naples.

Captain Monte is a member of an elite group within the national police based in Naples. This is a position she has worked long and hard for, becoming one of the rare women to reach this rank and stature. Natalia finds herself shuttling between  Naples' decadent art galleries and violent criminal underworld. Crime in Naples most often has connections to the criminal underworld that has no rules and penetrates every aspect of life in Napoli. If she is to solve the heinous crime, she must also reevaluate her own past allegiances.

Mount Vesuvius dominates the landscape in Naples, as it continues to emit clouds of smoke from its cavernous maw. Vesuvius is a dangerous volcano, with a reputation for explosive eruptions that could destroy the local population, as it has done before, and it is the symbol of violence in a place of beauty––just as this murder desecrated a wonderful garden.

What trip to Italy is complete without a taste of the food? Marco Vichi features mouth-watering Italian cuisine in Death in Sardinia: An Inspector Bordelli Mystery (trans. from the Italian by Stephen Sartarelli, Pegasus Crime, dist. by Norton, March 1, 2014).

Inspector Bordelli of Florence is a very unusual character, who is always trying to feel a bit more comfortable both in his life and his work. When he is called to the case of a man who was murdered by a pair of scissors he is ambivalent. He has a deep-seated desire for justice that is often tempered with an equally deep sympathy for the vulnerable characters he meets in the course of his duty. This particular victim arouses in him an intense hostility, because he was a loan shark and blackmailer who preyed on the susceptible and ruined many of them.

Bordelli is a single man in his fifties who is trying to reconcile his experiences during Mussolini's fascist regime and experiences fighting in a partisan brigade after Mussolini's defeat, with the present reality of 1960s Florence. He can't understand the young men with long hair who listen to a caterwauling group they call the Rolling Stones, ride their scooters, smoke dope and have the gall to name him Methuselah. His friends are easier to understand, even though they may be ex-criminals and working girls.

This is not a typical police procedural. Vichi incorporates stories, handed down by his father, that chronicle a period of wartime history that left painful memories decades after its end.

Bordelli's usual sidekick, Piras, who translates the sixties for him, is home in Sardinia recuperating from a gunshot wound. This island, famed for its beautiful beaches and fascinating history, is no stranger to violence and Piras also investigates a murder that has long strings leading back to World War II.

Kwei Quartey, in Murder at Cape Three Points (Soho Crime, March 18, 2014), takes us further south to Cape Three Points, located on the beautiful Ghanaian coast. A canoe casts itself up on an oilrig, and it is found to be laden with the bodies of a prominent, wealthy, middle-aged married couple, viciously murdered. The couple was greatly mourned and, since the clues are few, the killers remain at large.

Sapphire Smith-Aidoo, the niece of the murdered couple, is a successful pediatric surgeon in Accra, the capital, and she convinces the Ghanaian federal police to get involved. So Detective Inspector Darko Dawson is sent to the Cape. This area in the past had supported many fishermen in scattered tribal villages. The problem in this paradise is that greed for land, specially located near the sea, is as prevalent in Ghana as in any other parts of the world.

Real estate entrepreneurs and wealthy oil companies have been trying to convince the tribes to move out by offering generous bribes. Darko is really more concerned about his family in Accra, because he has a son with a heart condition, but he discovers a barrel full of motives for murder. There are personal vendettas, corporate conspiracies and, of course, money overlying it all. Darko has to find a way to reconcile how these considerations lead to the murder with a message in the canoe.

Although the first of the Charlaine Harris collection that I read was the well-known supernatural fantasy series involving the undead, I also enjoyed her other books with Harper Connelly, a struck-by-lightning survivor who can find bodies; Lily Bard, a most unusual housecleaner; and Aurora Teagarden, a librarian with a twist.

Aside from Harris's propensity for giving her protagonists picturesque names (e.g. Sookie Stackhouse), she has the ability to take what seems on the surface to be ordinary and morph it into a hair-raising experience. Midnight Crossroad (Ace Hardcover, May 6, 2014) is the first in a new trilogy.

Midnight, Texas, is apparently as rundown and desolate as those dusty main streets in old westerns. There is one traffic light in town, and the smart thing would be to run it and put the town behind you. There are a few amenities, like a diner and a pawnshop, but some of the denizens of the town only come out at night.

Harris explains that, for a change of pace, she is writing in the third person and from multiple points of view. She has also revealed that she will incorporate characters from all the series she's written in these three books and that there will be supernatural elements––but won't be as dependent on them. I am really looking forward to these stories.

We aren't the only ones who want some respite from this winter of our discontent. Out on the high plains of Wyoming, Walt Longmire is sinking into cold-weather doldrums. Craig Johnson is bringing out his tenth Walt Longmire adventure, Any Other Name (Viking Adult, May 13, 2014), that begins as Walt's former boss, Lucian Connally, rescues him by presenting him with a mystery to solve. Lucian wants Longmire to figure out why Detective Gerald Holman, an old friend of his, has put a period to his existence. It appears that the detective in charge of the investigation may have suppressed evidence concerning three missing women.

One way to endure the drought between Longmire books is to catch the A&E TV series Longmire. I found it has little in common with the Johnson novels, outside of the fact that some of the characters have the same names and the theme is that of a Wyoming sheriff with a best friend who is an Indian. There is a feisty Philly sidekick, but the books are very different in manner, with different plots and more manipulation of the audience's emotions. It's like comparing Philly style cheese steak and a peanut butter sandwich. The books get my vote.

My granddaughter and I will be going for long walks with a bird identification book as soon as the weather improves. I must admit that half of the time we can't identify what we see, even with the book, but we are making memories. Meanwhile, I get a birding fix by reading books like A Siege of Bitterns: A Birder Murder Mystery (Dundurn, May 13, 2014) by Steve Burrows.

This is an introduction to Inspector Dominic Jejeune, who is very good at his job but would rather spend his time watching birds. Happily, he has been transferred to the small Norfolk town of Saltmarsh, located in the middle of Britain's best birding country. The gruesome murder of a prominent ecological activist brings Jejuene's two worlds crashing together. Dominic has to find his feet in new territory, keep an ambitious boss satisfied and battle his own insecurities as he looks for the answers in this case.

I became fascinated by twitchers (birders) after reading both the Ann Cleeves and J.S. Borthwick books. I have preordered this book and I hope I don't have to wait long for it.

When the weather is uncertain, a hallmark of spring, it is a good time to sink yourself in a sure thing. I am happily anticipating Henry Chang's latest: Death Money (Soho Crime, April 15, 2014).

I have been missing Chinese-American NYPD Detective Jack Yu, who has transferred back to his old neighborhood, Chinatown, because he wants to be near his father, who is very ill. As is often the case when you go back home, things are never the same. Some of Jack's boyhood friends have become hardened gangsters. Worse are the memories of the unforgotten murder of a former teenage blood brother that plagues him.

Jack is asked to investigate when the body of an unidentified Asian man is found in the Harlem River, and this leads him into a world of secrets and unclear allegiances, of Chinatown street gangs and major Triad players. Jack needs the help of old friends to solve his most difficult case yet.

Those list apps are wonderful, because most of us always have our phones with us. So add any of the likely reads that my fellow Material Witnesses are bringing to light. Happy hunting! Tune in again tomorrow for more of Sister Mary's recommendations.


  1. I've learned to stock my refrigerator before I pick up any book set in Italy. Inspector Bordelli looks like a man I need to spend an evening with.

    It also looks like I need to meet Kwei Quartey's Inspector Darko Dawson. Can you give me a comparable series, MC?

  2. Georgette, I have been racking my brain to come up with a read-alike. I find this series different from other series set in Africa. I can't compare them to Alexander McCall Smith's books, or Michael Stanley's Detective Kubu's or even the Bruce Medway series by Robert Wilson. For one thing I find Darko to be a somewhat reluctant cop at times who also has a family and that along makes him unique.

    Perhaps I could say that if you like C. C.Benison and his Father Christmas novels or the style ofJakob Arjouni you might like this book.