Posts Tagged ‘Deborah Crombie’

I really should stop reading creepy crime novels at bedtime if I ever want to get some sleep. Consider police detective Casey Duncan at the beginning of Kelley Armstrong’s decidedly chilly A Darkness Absolute (St. Martin’s, digital galley). Chasing a fugitive from the off-the-grid community of Rockton in the Canadian wilderness, Casey and a deputy are stranded in a cave by a fierce blizzard. Strange noises lead them to a dark pit, where a missing Rockton woman has been held captive for more than a year.  Nicki can tell them little about the mystery man who kidnapped her, but there’s no doubt he’s still a threat when the bones of other missing women turn up deep in the cave system. Casey’s investigation with prickly sheriff Eric Dalton is hindered by the unusual nature of Rockton, a safe haven for people with secrets. Casey’s was revealed in Armstrong’s 2016 City of the Lost, so you might want to read it first to avoid spoilers. Besides, it’s another atmospheric page-turner.

So is Clare Mackintosh’s I See You (Berkley Penguin, digital galley), which will have you looking over your shoulder like London commuter Zoe Walker, who routinely takes the underground Tube to her real estate job. Then one day she spots a blurry photo of herself in a tabloid ad for what appears to be an internet dating site. What? How?  She discovers that the ad runs daily, each time with the photo of a different woman — and that these women are being stalked and assaulted.  One has been murdered. Zoe takes her worries to Transport police officer Kelly Swift, whose third-person perspective on events alternates with Zoe’s first-person narrative, upping the suspense. Mackintosh displayed her suspense writing chops with last year’s I Let You Go. This book’s another thrill ride if you’re willing to ignore some improbable plot points.

Speaking of which, I couldn’t help rolling my eyes at Behind Her Eyes (Flatiron Books, ARC), in which Sarah Pinborough also uses shifting perspectives to tie a love triangle in knots. Londoner Louise is surprised to learn her new boss David, a successful therapist, is the guy she made out with in a bar. Also, he’s married to beautiful Adele, who befriends Louise. Who is playing who? It’s a guessing game until the out-of-the-blue, over-the-top ending. You’ll also need to suspend disbelief with J.P. Delaney’s The Girl Before (Ballantine, digital galley), which is full of coincidences about the successive attractive tenants of a control-freak architect’s custom London mansion. Neither Emma nor Jane is willing to look the gift house in the mouth, even though the rental agreement has about 200 ridiculous rules — no books, no pictures on the wall, no rugs on the floor — and also poses intrusive ethical questions. Really?

After the show-off style of so many thrillers, it’s a relief to turn to a gripping procedural. Deborah Crombie’s Garden of Lamentations (Morrow, digital galley),the 17th in her series featuring married London. detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, is one of the best, building on 2014’s To Dwell in Darkness. (Yes, you’ll want to read it, too).  While Gemma investigates the murder of a pretty nanny in a Notting Hill garden, Duncan puzzles over his recent reassignment and the cryptic comments his former boss made before he was mugged and left comatose. Duncan has his suspicions about several seemingly unrelated cases involving members of the force, and the assault on the chief super makes him think a traitor may be at work.

Judith Flanders’ clever and entertaining third mystery starring London book editor Samantha Clair, A Cast of Vultures (St. Martin’s, digital galley), benefits from its heroine’s witty narration and an engaging supporting cast. Problems at the publishing house where Sam works are overshadowed by troubles in her neighborhood, where an arson case turns up squatters and a dead body. Of course, Sam’s going to get involved, as will her cop boyfriend, her attorney mom, her elderly but reclusive neighbor, and her spunky editorial assistant. But it’s Sam who’s up a tree — literally — at Kew Gardens and hanging on for dear life while a couple of thugs down below calmly discuss her murder.

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rosegoldIn 1967 Los Angeles, the times keep on a-changing, and Walter Mosley’s detective Easy Rawlins keeps on finding work — or rather it finds him. Not long after the events chronicled in last year’s stellar Little Green, Rose Gold (Knopf Doubleday, digital galley) opens with Rawlins moving house and getting some unexpected help from the police unloading the boxes. That’s because the LAPD wants Rawlins’ help in finding a black activist boxer, who may be involved in the apparent kidnapping of Rosemary Goldsmith, the rebellious college student daughter of a weapons manufacturer. The investigation is all hush-hush — the police don’t want Rawlins talking to Rose’s family, and the FBI and State Department don’t want him on the case at all. He’s not deterred, even when shots are fired at his car, and exchanges favors with some old friends, including a veteran cop who has fallen for a missing grifter. Rawlins looks for her, as well as an abducted child, all the while trailing Rose, her faux-hippie friends and the violent black nationalist group known as Scorched Earth. Mosley mixes pointed social commentary with heart-in-your-throat action sequences, and makes it all look, well, easy. Sweet.

longwayIn Louise Penny’s Long Way Home (St. Martin’s Press, library hardcover), Inspector Armand Gamache has retired as Quebec’s chief of homicide and retreated to the peace of the village of Three Pines. But then neighbor and friend Clara Morrow asks for his help in finding her husband, Peter Morrow, an artist who has been overshadowed by his wife’s success. The two separated for a year, but Peter failed to turn up on the designated reunion date. Finding clues in odd paintings Peter left with a young relative, Gamache and his former colleague Jean-Guy Beauvoir trace Peter from Montreal to France to Scotland and back to Canada. Along with Clara and bookstore owner Myrna Landers, he and Beauvoir journey through the wilds of Quebec to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, a desolate spot referred to as the “land God gave to Cain.” Readers of Penny’s previous books will appreciate the intertwining of spiritual and artistic themes and the rich description of both natural and emotional landscapes. But the narrative is unevenly paced, and a profusion of sentence fragments chop it up. And slow it down. Too bad. Really.

dwellWhen a white phosphorous grenade goes off in London’s busy St. Pancras station, killing one man and injuring bystanders, the police first suspect terrorism. This makes Deborah Crombie’s To Dwell in Darkness (Morrow/HarperCollins, digital galley) terribly timely, and tensions remain high even when the explosion is connected to a small group of protesters arguing for architectural preservation. Duncan Kincaid, recently transferred from Scotland Yard to the Camden borough homicide squad, still has a murder to solve, and the key may be a mysterious ex-soldier who was on the scene at St. Pancras. Also on the station platform that day was Melody Talbot,  a friend and colleague of Kincaid’s wife and fellow copper Gemma St. James. Soon, drama on the domestic front involving kids and pets vies with the bomb investigation for the detectives’ attention. It’s to Crombie’s credit that readers are equally invested in the competing storylines. After 16 books, we’ve been through thick and thin with Kincaid and St. James, whose lives are never dull.

distanceHelen  Giltrow delivers a gritty page-turner with her first novel, The Distance (Knopf Doubleday, digital galley), about a high-tech information agent known as Karla who hides behind the identity of London socialite Charlotte Alton. Or is it the other way around? Karla’s an expert at erasing a person’s past and giving them a new identity, something she did for expert sniper Simon Johanssen after a mob hit went wrong eight years ago. Now Simon needs Karla’s help to get inside an experimental prison that’s home to his next target, a woman for whom Karla can find no record, as well as the sadistic mob boss he eluded once upon a time. It’s a  mission fraught with  obstacles and with little chance for success, and pretty much everything that can go wrong does. Be prepared for blood, torture and a high body count.

cinderellaIn Simon Brett’s entertaining The Cinderella Killer (Severn House, digital galley), veteran actor Charles Paris has to explain to American sitcom star Kenny Polizzi  that pantomime is not mime. Rather, the traditional holiday pantos are more akin to vaudeville with numerous stock characters and bits of stage business that the audience expects. Kenny, an amiable if somewhat clueless soul, has a leading role in Eastbourne’s Christmas production of Cinderella, while Charles’ part is much smaller, at least until Kenny falls off the wagon, a dancer disappears and murder makes an entrance. Then Charles plays sleuth, dealing with the inflated egos and eccentric antics of cast, crew and hangers-on. The plot’s on the slight side, but it’s always a pleasure to keep company with Charles, and the details on pantomime’s theatrical traditions are fascinating. A front-row seat on back-stage shenanigans.


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crombieCrystal Palace may sound like something out of a fairy tale or Disney theme park, but it’s actually a neighborhood in south London that takes its name from the Grand Exhibition landmark destroyed by fire in 1936. It’s also the setting for murder in Deborah Crombie’s intriguing The Sound of Broken Glass (Morrow, digital galley), which neatly toggles between today and 15 years ago when guitarist Andy Monahan was a lonely teen.

Andy’s a witness/suspect in the strangling death of a barrister in a seedy Crystal Palace hotel. DI Gemma James investigates while her Scotland Yard hubby, Duncan Kincaid, has homefront duty, but it turns out Duncan and Andy have friends in common. Further complications are provided by a second murder and DS Melody Talbot’s attraction to Andy, about to get the break of his career. Newcomers to the series may be confused by the cluttered backstory, but Crombie knows what she’s doing. The teasing finale left me longing for the next book.

suspectMy favorite new sleuth is nosy Maggie, the heroine of Robert Crais’ stand-alone, Suspect (Putnam, library hardcover). She’s a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, scarred by a sniper’s bullet when her partner was killed, and now has PTSD. So does her new partner, Scott James, a LA cop wounded in a shootout that killed his last partner. Both have trouble adjusting to each other and K-9 training, but the German Shepherd is exactly what James needs to sort out his life and his last case. The chapters told from Maggie’s perspective will fascinate dog-lovers.

threegravesA smart dog also has a pivotal role in Jamie Mason’s debut Three Graves Full (Gallery Books, digital galley), which is part tricky mystery, part screwball comedy. Mild-mannered, lost-in-a-crowd widower Jason Getty knows there’s a body buried in his suburban backyard because he put it there. But he’s at a loss — and in a panic –when landscapers discover two additional corpses underneath his bedroom window and his tidy life is suddenly invaded by cops, the aforementioned dog, and a woman looking for her runaway fiance. Great writing, great fun.

burningIn The Burning Air (Pamela Dorman/Viking, digital galley), Erin Kelly puts a devious spin on family secrets, obsession and revenge. After Lydia MacBride’s death, her husband Rowan, their three grown children, plus partners and kids, all gather at an isolated country house. Rowan, former headmaster at a prestigious school, gets drunk and starts a bonfire, while daughter Sophie copes with post-partum depression and a failing marriage. Her divorced sister Tara worries about her teenage son, and both women are unsure about their disfigured brother Felix’s enigmatic new companion. Kelly offers multiple narrators and a tension-filled story that skips back in time before returning to a present-day kidnapping and the search for Lydia’s diaries.

toddCharles Todd’s long-running Inspector Ian Rutledge series maintains its high standards with Proof of Guilt (Morrow, digital galley), set in the summer of 1920. Rutledge, scarred by his wartime experiences and literally haunted by the soldier Hamish, is assigned by his new boss to a suspicious hit-and-run death. The only clue to the dead man’s identity is an heirloom pocketwatch that Rutledge traces to a family firm of London wine merchants with vineyards in Portugal. The trail then leads to Essex, where family members have motives aplenty to wish one of their kin dead. It’s a right old puzzle, and Rutledge’s instincts run counter to his chief’s as to who did what when.  It will be the noose for a lovely lady if he can’t find the real killer.

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Reading Elmore Leonard’s new novel Raylan, I can no longer separate the title character from Timothy Olyphant, who plays Raylan Givens on  TV’s Justified on TV. Of course, the FX series is based on a couple of earlier Leonard tales about the laconic U.S. marshal, and lean, blue-jeaned Olyphant has made the part his own. Leonard must think so, too — that’s the TV Raylan on the cover.

Although the book shares some outrageous characters and twisted plot lines with the series, it’s not a duplicate. Rather, it’s a complement as Leonard surehandedly tracks Givens juggling three cases in Harlan County, Ky. — human organ trafficking, mining schemes,  gambling and bank robbery –and coming up against three formidable females: a transplant nurse, a coal-company exec, and a risk-taker of a college student.

Leonard is such a pro at this kind of down’n’dirty, droll storytelling, and Raylan such a cool guy. Can’t take my eyes off him, in print or on screen.

Every now and then in the early morning, I’ll see one of the local crew teams out on a nearby lake. They make rowing look so easy as they skim across the water, and I’m duly mesmerized. I had much the same feeling reading the first chapter of Deborah Crombie’s No Mark Upon Her, in which a Met detective with dreams of the Olympics takes her shell out in the Thames in the early dusk. “She was moving now, listening to the whoosh and thunk as the oars went in, followed by an instant of absolute silence as they came out of the water and the boat plunged forward like a living thing. It was perfect rhythm, this, it was music. The boat was singing, and she was a part of it, lifting from the water like a bird.”

The next day the cry goes up for a missing rower, and Scotland Yard’s Duncan Kincaid, returning from holiday, is rerouted to Henley to investigate. His wife, DI Gemma James, returns to London with their two sons and their foster daughter, Charlotte, but eventually she, too, will be involved in the case with its controversial ties to police politics and sexual abuse.

It’s a layered, complicated tale that also involves members of the prestigious Leander Club, an Iraq war veteran with post-traumatic stress, Duncan and Gemma’s balancing act of work and home, Charlotte’s 3rd birthday party themed to Alice in Wonderland, and two memorable search-and-rescue dogs. Yes, the kids and the dogs threaten to upstage proceedings, but Crombie steers all to a pulse-pounding ending.

Kids and dogs also figure in Sara Paretsky’s Breakdown, the 15th in the excellent V.I. Warshawski series. Vic finds trouble as she tries to keep a group of young teens out of trouble. The girls are paying homage to their favorite vampire stories in a Chicago cemetery when a man is staked in the heart nearby. Coincidence? Maybe not. One girl is the daughter of a Senate candidate, another the granddaughter of a Jewish immigrant philanthropist, and both families have drawn the vitriolic ire of right-wing newscaster Wade Lawlor. The dead man is a shady private detective who may have been working for Lawlor.

Trying to keep the girls out of the glaring media spotlight, Vic finds connections among the “vampire killing,” her wealthy best friend Ashden’s bipolar behavior, and a state mental hospital with a wing for the criminally insane. It’s a terrific book to read during an election year, touching on hot-button issues like immigration and negative campaigning.

I think those may be about the only two topics not included in Elizabeth George’s Believing the Lie, the newest outing for Scotland Yard’s aristocratic Thomas Lynley and his proletarian partner Barbara Havers. Tabloid journalism, drug addiction, gay marriage, infertilty, surrogacy, adoption, adultery, internet predators, pedophilia, alcoholism, dysfunctional families, buried secrets. George’s kitchen-sink-and-more plot is a tangled web, indeed.

As Lynley looks into an accidental drowning in the Lake District with the help of forensic scientist Simon St. James and his photographer wife Deborah, Havers mines the family history of the wealthy Faircloughs and gets her hair cut and colored. The latter digression will be appreciated by series’ fans up on the series characters’ personal lives. And it’s actually Deborah’s continuing quest to have a baby that dovetails with a major plot point concerning the beautiful wife of a Fairclough scion. Even though George delivers a boat-load of red herrings, shame on you if you can’t see where the story’s headed.

If you’re looking for a new series, I suggest The Anatomist’s Apprentice by Tessa Harris, which introduces Sir Thomas Silkstone, a young Philadelphia surgeon who comes to London in 1774 to learn more anatomy. He is asked by Lady Lydia Farrell to study the decomposing body of her brother, Sir Edward Crick, who died under mysterious circumstances, and so begins his career as a pioneering forensic detective.

If you’re not put off by the gooey and gory details of Kathy Reichs’ novels and the TV show Bones, and you’ve already gloried in Ariana Franklin’s historicals, you’ll be entertained by Silverstone’s sharp dissection of corpses and detection of clues.

Open Book: I read review copies of Elmore Leonard’s Raylan (Morrow) and Crombie’s No Mark Upon Her (Morrow), an advance reading copy of Harris’ The Anatomist’s Apprentice (Kensington), and borrowed copies of Paretsky’s Breakdown (Penguin Group) and George’s Believing the Lie (Penguin Group) from the wonderful Orange County Library.

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