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Posts Tagged ‘Death of a Kingfisher’

My recent appetite for books is bordering on the insatiable. No sooner do I check out a new book from the library or receive an ARC in the mail than I read about another title I that sounds great or someone mentions a book not yet on my radar. It reminds me of when I was a kid and would go to the library and check out a stack of books and read them one after another. The only problem with reading as fast as I can is that the blogging goes a bit by the wayside. But here goes:

Ashley Judd has a new TV series about an ex-CIA agent who is also a mom, so I can totally see Judd playing Kate Moore, the winning protagonist of Chris Pavone’s clever first thriller, The Expats (Crown; library hardcover). When Kate’s husband gets a high-tech job in banking security in Luxembourg, she happily ditches her CIA job — which hubby Dexter never knew about — and moves overseas to be a full-time mom to two young sons. But she soon tires of domestic chores, and begins eyeing another American expat couple with suspicion. Something about Bill and Julia doesn’t ring true. Are they assassins targeting a government official from their neatly situated apartment, or is Kate just paranoid? Maybe they’re after her and her old secrets. Surely they’re not trailing geeky Dexter. What could he be hiding?

Pavone shifts back and forth from present-day Paris to Luxembourg two years ago, sometimes flashing back to Kate’s career as a spy. Pay attention. Things start slowly, but before long, Pavone hits the black-diamond trail with all its risky twsts and heart-stopping turns. Both he and Kate are real pros at the espionage game. I hope there’s a sequel.

Peter Robinson, author of the excellent and long-running Inspector Alan Banks series, goes the stand-alone route in the absorbing Before the Poison (Morrow; review copy), which favorably reminds me of both Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine’s novel A Dark-Adapted Eye and the Kenneth Branagh film Dead Again. Chris Lowndes, a 60sh Hollywood film composer still grieving for his late wife, returns to the Yorkshire Dales of his youth, buying a big old country house. Even before he learns its peculiar history, he finds Kilnsgate curiously atmospheric, as if past events have left trace memories, which Chris is now reading.

Or is he just suggestible by nature, especially after learning that Kilnsgate was once home to Grace Fox, who was hanged for poisoning her doctor husband in the early 1950s? The more Chris learns about lovely Grace, the more convinced he becomes that perhaps she didn’t commit the crime for which she was executed.

Robinson neatly juxtaposes Chris’ first-person narrative with a rather dry account of Grace’s trial and the events leading up it, and then with Grace’s surprising journal entries chronicling her experiences as a World War II nurse in Singapore and the South Pacific. No wonder she haunts Chris’ imagination if not the halls of Kilnsgate itself. As for Chris, he’s an intelligent observer who likes classical music, fine art, good food, old movies and Alan Furst’s espionage novels. Mmm, I’d hit him up on Match.com, not that I’ve ever been there.

I’ve always been quite fond of Hamish Macbeth, the red-headed Scottish constable featured in more than two dozen nimble mysteries by M.C. Beaton. Hamish has a checkered romantic history, but he’s between lady friends in Death of a Kingfisher (Grand Central Publishing; digital galley from NetGalley). Not surprisingly, he’s attracted to pretty albeit married Mary Leinster, a newcomer to Lochdubh who has turned beautiful Buchan’s Woods into a tourist attraction, Fairy Glen.

But someone is up to mischief and then murder at Fairy Glen, heralded by the hanging of the gorgeous kingfisher who nests there. Then a bridge collapses, and the body count mounts as various characters meet their maker in extraordinary fashion. Death by rocket-propelled riding stairlift through the roof may seem a wee bit over the top, but the conclusion, involving international spies, is even more far-fetched. But still good fun.

Joshilyn Jackson’s A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty (Grand Central Publishing, digital galley from NetGalley) is one of those good Southern novels with many funny characters and funny stuff going on, only “funny” is more “funny peculiar” than “funny ha-ha.”

Ginny Slocumb is nervous. She was 15 and unwed when she had her daughter Liza, who in turn, was 15 and unmarried when she gave birth to Mosey. Now Mosey is 15, and Ginny, known as Big, is wondering when Mosey might be expecting, except that her awkward, endearing granddaughter doesn’t have a beau, just a friend who is a dorky boy. And it may be that fate has already dealt the Slocumb women their 15-year-blow. Liza, a former drug addict, has been crippled by a stroke, and when Big decides to dig up the backyard willow tree for a swimming pool, the bones of a baby are unearthed. Where did they come from? Big has her suspicions, but Liza remains locked in her secret world, and the truth may destroy the family.

The three main characters take turns with the narrative, and Jackson creates three distinctive voices. She also is very good at evoking the sultry Mississippi heat and the class suffocation that stifles the town. A snobby matriarch borders on the cliche, and some secrets fail to surprise, but a lonely girl from the wrong side of town tugs on Big’s heartstrings.

Open Book: I’m nowhere near finished, so look for Part II in a couple of days.

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