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Posts Tagged ‘Peter Robinson’

If you’re the kind of reader who races through a mystery to find out whodunnit, Sophie Hannah’s The Next to Die (Morrow, digital) is probably not your kind of book. Her domestic suspense/procedurals  featuring married police detectives Charlie Zailler and Simon Waterhouse delve into motive and character, and she plots outside the lines. Here, a serial killer dubbed “Billy No Mates” is apparently targeting pairs of friends by first sending them mysterious handmade booklets with a line of verse on one page. Stand-up comedian Kim Tribbick, who narrates parts of the book, is mystified when she realizes a stranger gave her one of the booklets at a gig a year ago. She has an ex-husband, an ex-boyfriend and a dreadful brother but no real friends for “Billy No Mates” to kill. Kim and Charlie pal around, though, driving around England to revisit Kim’s tour bookings, and spying on Charlie’s sister in the process. An angry journalist muddies the waters with her insistence that the killer hates women, and a police profiler proves useless. Eventually, most of the digressions and characters come together in a denouement that is quite clever in retrospect. It’s certainly audacious.

Set in the sweltering Outback of an Australian summer, Jane Harper’s third novel The Lost Man (Flatiron, digital galley) is a stunner from its first atmospheric pages. Queensland rancher Cameron Bright’s body is spotted from a helicopter near an isolated marker known as the Stockman’s Grave. His older brother Nathan, who owns an adjoining ranch hours away, and younger brother Bub, who works the family land with Cameron and their widowed mother Liz, can’t figure out how Cameron was separated from his fully outfitted Land Cruiser found a few miles away, the keys in the seat. No water, no shade, he wouldn’t have lasted a day. The odd circumstances surrounding the death of the popular rancher, who left behind a wife and two young daughters, leads loner Nathan to the mystery of family present and past.  He discovers secrets that wound, secrets that break hearts, secrets to die for.

A group of old friends gather for a New Year’s celebration in a country house during a snowstorm. You’ve been there before, but Lucy Foley ups the ante in The Hunting Party (HarperCollins, digital galley). The friends are former Oxford classmates and their partners; the house is an exclusive luxury lodge in the Scottish Highlands; the snowstorm is a blizzard of epic proportions cutting them off from civilization At book’s beginning, the gamekeeper reports that the body of a missing guest has been found. But Foley then flashes back several days to reveal the proceedings from rotating perspectives. Secrets lurk among the friends; tempers flare and tensions rise. Golden couple Miranda and Julian are not so golden, after all. Rumors of a serial killer stalking the Highlands add to the unease. This is the kind of book you race through to find out whodunnit. Fun while it lasts, but I read it a month ago and now can’t remember victim or killer.

Inspector Alan Banks has always been good company, and that hasn’t changed now that he’s Detective Superintendent Banks. In Peter Robinson’s sturdy procedural Careless Love (Morrow, digital galley), two suspicious deaths at first appear unrelated. The college student found in an abandoned car didn’t own a car, or even drive. How did she get in the car and where’s her cell phone? As to the well-dressed older man found at the bottom of a ravine on the moors, did he fall or was he pushed? And what was he doing in the middle of nowhere? The answers, when they come, point to an old foe and an all-too current crime. Even Robinson’s minor characters are well-drawn, like the owner of the abandoned car who won’t let the detectives get a word in edgewise.

Aurora Jackson was just 14 in the summer of 1983, when she disappeared during an overnight camping trip with her older sister and five other teens. Thirty years later, Aurora’s remains are found in a secret hideaway in the woods by a collapsed river bank, and the discovery disrupts the successful adult lives of her fellow campers. In Gytha Lodge’s artful She Lies in Wait (Random House, digital galley), the narrative alternates between the present, when detective Jonah Shields leads the investigation into the cold case he worked on as a young cop, and the past. Back then Aurora feels lucky to be tagging along with the popular older crowd, although she’s out of her depth with the drinking, drugs and make-out sessions. The book becomes a suspenseful guessing game as Jonah questions the others and we also see their younger selves. Aurora’s sexy sister Topaz  is now married to one of the boys from the group, a university professor. Another boy is an Olympic gold medalist and entrepreneur. Then there’s the married politician, the landscape architect who lost her fiance in a rock-climbing accident, the unhappy woman nursing a secret affair. Which one is a killer? Who lied then? Who is lying now — and willing to kill again?

There’s a dead body on the kitchen floor of the nice Victorian house in an upscale neighborhood in Bristol, England. That’s the very beginning of Watching You (Atria, digital galley), but then, without revealing the identity of the corpse or possible killer, author Lisa Jewell plunges into a complicated scenario tangling rumor and obsession. The house belongs to Tom Fitzwilliam, a respected headmaster with a wife and son. One of his neighbors, newly married Joey Mullen, has something of a crush on Tom and begins spying on him. But she’s not the only one watching flirtatious Tom. Two of his students are keeping an eye on him, as is one girl’s psychologically disturbed mother who swears she remembers him from a long-ago incident. Then there’s Freddy, Tom’s autistic son, who spies on everyone from his upstairs window. Jewell moves craftily among the characters, revealing bits and pieces of past interactions and more recent encounters. Motives for murder abound, but the conclusion as to corpse and killer still comes as a shock.

 

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rhapsodyBravo! Kate Racculia’s nifty novel Bellweather Rhapsody (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, digital galley) has been likened to Agatha Christie meets The Shining meets Glee. Add in Racculia’s declared devotion to the late great Ellen Raskin, author of Newbery Medal-winning The Westing Game, and I am so there. There, in this case is the once-grand, now-shabby Bellweather Hotel in the Catskills, famous for a 1982 murder-suicide in Room 712, witnessed by reluctant 10-year-old bridesmaid Minnie Graves. Fifteen years later, troubled Minnie decides to confront the past by returning to the Bellweather, which is hosting a statewide music festival for talented teens. On hand are twins Alice and Rabbit Hatmaker; she a drama-queen vocalist, he a shy bassoonist with a secret. They’re chaperoned by former piano prodigy Natalie Wilson, who right off runs into her old nemesis, Viola Fabian, the festival’s acting director. Viola — think Glenn Close as Cruella de Vil — terrorizes everyone, including aging concierge Harold Hastings, Scottish conductor and former lover Fisher Brodie, and especially her 14-year-old daughter, Jill, a musical prodigy who is rooming with Alice. In Room 712.

Having set the stage, Racculia then orchestrates this cast’s interactions with aplomb, leading up to Jill’s mysterious disappearance from her and Alice’s room, as well as a raging snowstorm that cuts off the Bellweather from the outside world. The cavernous hotel with its domed penthouse swimming pool is rife with rumor, alive with the sound of music and rowdy, randy teens.  Noting a full moon, Natalie wonders what will happen next. “The past was layered under the present like sheets of tissue paper, still visible if you focused your attention long enough to see below the surface.” Oh, my. Encore!

wolfMo Hayder’s seventh Jack Caffery tale Wolf (Grove Atlantic, digital gallery) is twisting and twisted, not for the faint of heart nor weak of stomach. Scientist Oliver Anchor-Ferrers is recovering from heart surgery at his Somerset country estate with his wife, grown daughter and their dog when they become hostages during a vicious home invasion. Meanwhile, Jack is taking a break from police work to further delve into the long-ago disappearance of his brother Ethan, believed to have been abducted by a pedophile ring. The enigmatic Walking Man, the drifter who has helped Jack previously, apparently has new information but first wants Jack to find the owners of a stray dog found with a “Help us” note tucked in its collar. Hayder builds suspense by cross-cutting the narratives and through the steady accretion of small details, some of which deal with a gruesome murder that rocked the wealthy Anchor-Ferrers years ago. Their present-day captors are all the more fear-inspiring because they are professional henchmen performing a job separate from their own ordinary lives.  Torture R Us.

midnightCharlaine Harris may have put Sookie Stackhouse and the Louisiana town of Bon Temps in her rearview mirror, but that doesn’t mean she’s left behind the paranormal. Midnight Crossroad (Penguin Berkley, purchased e-book) introduces us to the dusty, down-at-its-heels Texas hamlet of Midnight, where young online psychic Manfredo Bernardo (of the Harper Connelly series) sets up shop across the street from a large pawn shop. His new neighbors are an eclectic bunch, including an attractive witch and her watchful cat, a solitary reverend who tends over a little church and adjacent pet cemetery, the very pale downstairs tenant of the pawn shop, and a hard-working manager of the Gas ‘n’ Go and his teenage daughter and son.  Used to being an outsider, Manfredo finds himself surprisingly at home. When a missing woman with secret connections to a hate group is found dead, the community bands together against outside threats, each resident contributing his or her particular talents. As always, Harris is adept at depicting the cozy pleasures and perils of small-town life. First in a trilogy. I’ll be back.

revolutionIf you remember the ’60s, you know the era of peace, love and hard rock lasted well into the ’70s and that it often wasn’t peaceful. What I like best about Peter Robinson’s Children of the Revolution (Morrow, digital galley) is how well it evokes the youthful idealism and social unrest of that time when DCI Alan Banks investigates the death of a disgraced college lecturer. He discovers links to the victim’s college days 40 years ago and to Lady Veronica Chambers, former Marxist rebel turned popular romance novelist with political connections. Banks has his own memories and prejudices to deal with as he nudges toward retirement age. What I don’t like about the story is Banks romancing a woman younger than his children. Hard to believe and kinda creepy. Better the detective should follow George Clooney’s lead and find a more age-appropriate partner.

leonBooklovers will both delight and despair at Donna Leon’s new Guido Brunetti mystery By Its Cover (Grove Atlantic, digital galley), which spins on the defacing and theft of rare books.  The director of a Venice library calls on Brunetti when the losses are discovered after the disappearance of an American professor who was a regular patron. Surprisingly, neither the library’s longtime security guard nor another constant patron, a reader of church history, know anything about the situation. Or so they say. Then the professor’s credentials are found to be faked, and a murder ups the ante. As usual, the book is Venice-centric with many asides to the city’s charms, as well as its corruption, its crumbling culture and its invasion by cruise-ship tourists. An abrupt ending, however, may leave readers wondering if a few pages have gone missing?!

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robinsonPeter Robinson’s series detective Alan Banks has little in common with David Baldacci’s Army Special Agent John Puller. But both the thoughtful Yorkshire copper and the cunning combat veteran face complex cases involving human trafficking and possible police corruption.

In Robinson’s deft Watching the Dark (Morrow, digital galley via edelweiss), the crossbow murder of a fellow cop eventually leads Banks to Tallinn, Estonia, where a pretty British teenager disappeared six years ago. Much to his dismay, Banks is accompanied by a Professional Standards officer, Joanna Passero, while his usual partner, Annie Cabbot, stays home investigating a migrant labor scam. When Banks discovers a link between the cases, he puts his and his colleagues’ lives in jeopardy.

baldacciSimilar peril finds Puller in the small Florida panhandle town of Paradise in Baldacci’s The Forgotten (Grand Central Publishing, purchased hardcover) when he uncovers evidence that his elderly aunt’s drowning death may be connected to the murder of a local retired couple. Puller takes his time piecing the puzzle and wrangling with local law enforcement, while an enigmatic gardener plots revenge at a wealthy tycoon’s gated estate. But all is revealed in an explosive finale that had me flipping pages.

nineteenSmugglers also play a part in Janet Evanovich’s new Stephanie Plum tale, Notorious Nineteen (Random House, library hardcover). I gave up on the flip New Jersey bounty agent a few books back as her adventures became more raucous, raunchy and ridiculous. But she’s in fine form in this entertaining escapade hunting for patients who have mysteriously disappeared from a local hospital. So, too, are Morelli, Ranger and other series regulars, including Rex the hamster and Bob the dog, but several cars lose their lives.

childsWhen Ruth Rendell assumes her Barbara Vine pseudonym, I think of a snake in a figure eight swallowing its tail, or of matryoshkas, the Russian nesting dolls. Just summing up The Child’s Child (Scribner, digital galley via edelweiss) requires many little gray cells. In this book-within-a-book, siblings Grace and Andrew Easton agree to share their late grandmother’s London houseEnter James Derain, Andrew’s handsome lover, who argues with Grace over her doctoral dissertation on society’s attitudes about unwed mothers. Two events further complicate their lives: James and Andrew witness a friend’s murder outside a nightclub, and Grace discovers an unpublished 1951 novel about a gay man who masquerades as his younger sister’s husband to give her illegitimate child a name. Vine’s artful storytelling encompasses sex, lies, murder and social taboos past and present. It’s engrossing reading even though the characters are often unsympathetic.

mcmahonJennifer McMahon also does some nifty time-shifting in her harrowing The One I Left Behind (HarperCollins, digital galley via edelweiss), as a successful architect confronts her past and a creepy serial killer dubbed Neptune. The summer Reggie is 13 and hanging out with fellow uncool kids Tara and Charlie, her has-been actress mother Vera disappears and is presumed to be Neptune’s last victim after her severed hand is delivered to the small town’s police station. A quarter century later, Vera reappears in a homeless shelter, but she is suffering from cancer and dementia. Reggie returns to her childhood home where she lived with her aunt to help care for her mother. Tara and Charlie are still around, as are several of Vera’s old boyfriends and Charlie’s cop father. So, too, is Neptune. Yikes!

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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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I’m not ready to close the book on 2010, or any other year for that matter. Perusing others’ year-end best lists, I’m gratified to see many of my own favorites (Tana French’s Faithful Place, Dennis Lehane’s Moonlight Mile, Emma Donoghue’s Room) and that President Obama is reading John le Carre and David Mitchell. But mostly I see all the books I’ve read but still haven’t written about, plus all the ones I want to read, including the lovely stack from Santa and friends.

 Just yesterday I finished Peter Robinson’s Bad Boy, which was very good, and came out six months ago. It’s the 19th in the Inspector Alan Banks series, which is hard to believe. Was In a Dry Season really 10 books back? I’d like to reread it if I can find my copy. I’m always looking for books lost in my own house, and while searching for them, I inevitably turn up others I’d like to reread — or never read in the first place. A constant chorus seems to emanate from the shelves and stacks: Pick me! I’m next! Over here!

I’m on vacation at my mom’s but can’t escape the books begging for attention. In fact, my bed is shoved up against a bookcase on one side, and I fall asleep — and wake up — eye-to-eye with a shelf of Maeve Binchy novels, a couple of Barbara Kingsolvers and some Tony Hillermans. All read and read again, still enticing. I turn my head, and the TBR stack of new volumes threatens to topple off the nightstand.

Susan Hill understands. The prolific British author, best known forThe Woman in Black — although I love her Simon Serrailler crime series — also loses books in her house. It’s why she wrote Howards End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home. Looking for one elusive volume, she turned up a  dozen more she’d forgotten about. So, swearing off new books for the most part and curtailing her use of the internet, she decided to “repossess” her own books. She writes:

“A book which is left on a shelf is a dead thing but it is also a chrysalis, an inanimate object packed with the potential to burst into new life.”

Her books also turn out to be a map of her own life, and her reading journey becomes a memoir. For fellow bibliophiles, the result is as hard to resist as the title — charming, anecdotal, opinionated. The temptation to quote is endless. “No matter what the genre, good writing tells.” And, “Ah here is Muriel Spark, sharp as a pencil, cool, stylish.”

She is talking about Sparks’ novels and stories, but Hill has led a literary life, and her descriptions of her encounters with older, famous writers are just as pointed. Edith Sitwell is haughty and terrifying, but the “small man with thinning hair and a melancholy mustache” who accidentally drops a book on her foot in the London Library offers “a small flurry of exclamations and apology and demur.” As she returns the book, she finds herself looking into the watery eyes of an elderly E.M. Forster. “He seemed slightly stooping and wholly unmemorable and I have remembered everything about him for nearly 50 years.”

She notes that knowing about a writer’s life is rarely necessary to appreciate their works but makes an exception, at least for herself, where Dickens and the Brontes are concerned. As for her own life, she has published books by other authors and found it an enjoyable sideline. She loves the feel and shape of books, the smell of them, the sound of pages being turned. She’ll put money on books — real books, printed and bound — being around as long as there are readers.

When I started this blog almost a year ago, I had the ambitious idea of giving away at least one of my old books for every new one I brought home. I would even chronicle this pruning of my collection in occasional posts, “Going, going, gone.” I think I did this twice before realizing the futility of my donating books or releasing them into the wild in any organized fashion. I always have a give-away box going, but it contains mostly recent acquisitions in which I’ve lost all interest. Rarely can I survey my shelves, stacks, piles, bins, carry-alls, table-tops, etc. and see a book I think I might not want to re-read — or get around to reading for the first time. Just reading Hill’s memoir has reminded me of at least half a hundred of which I already have copies.

So that’s my plan for 2011. Not to stop reading new books; I know my limits — as well as what’s on the horizon that looks wonderful. I’m already counting the months — eight — when the sequel to Lev Grossman’s  The Magicians is supposed to be published. But I am going to make a concerted effort to “repossess” the books I have, to indulge in the companionship of old friends, to acquaint myself with new-to-me volumes. I’ll let you know how it goes, and how often whimsy wins out over the call of the current. As soon as I get home later this week, I’ll probably start with Forster. Howards End is in the white wicker chest beneath the bedroom window. I think.

Open Book: I bought my copy of Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill (Profile Books) when it was published in the U.S. in early November. It moved to the top of my TBR stack about a week ago.

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