Posts Tagged ‘Venice’

Martha Grimes’ clever Richard Jury novels take their titles from British pubs, and there have been some doozies over the years: I Am the Only Running Footman, Help the Poor Struggler, Five Bells and Bladebone. So the 24th in the series, The Knowledge (Grove Atlantic, digital galley) seems merely another curiosity. But don’t go looking for it in London. The Knowledge, which refers to the street maps that the drivers of London’s famous black cabs know by heart, is also the name of a hidden, cabbies-only pub so secret that even Scotland Yard can’t find it. The story of the pub is one of the whimsical digressions in the murder case Jury is investigating, the shooting deaths of an American astronomer and his wife on the steps of a private casino. The shooter escapes in a black cab, but the stalwart driver alerts his network and Patty Haigh, a sassy preteen Sherlock, manages to pick up his trail at Heathrow and wrangle a first-class ticket to Kenya. Jury will eventually dispatch his pal Melrose Plant on safari to find Patty, while placing antiques dealer Marshall Trueblood inside the casino to deal cards. The complicated plot involving drugs, stolen art and greedy villains, is almost an afterthought, but who cares when the gang’s all here, plus winsome newcomers. I was totally charmed. Like lovely Vivian, I can’t make up my mind between Jury and Plant, so I’ll take both, please.

The many charms of Venice are on full display in Donna Leon’s new Guido Brunetti novel, The Temptation of Forgiveness (Grove Atlantic, digital galley), which is as thoughtful as it is atmospheric. Brunetti moves adroitly from vicious office politics to happy family life to investigating the case of a comatose beating victim. Turns out he is the accountant husband of a teacher whom Brunetti’s wife knows and who recently approached Brunetti about the drug problem at her son’s private school. Is there a connection? Perhaps. Meanwhile, what of the man’s elderly aunt, a Miss Havisham-like figure in a Venice apartment? The leisurely plot hinges on government corruption to no one’s surprise, this being a city long familiar with frauds of all kinds. But there’s something particularly unjust about a system that takes advantage of its most vulnerable citizens. Here’s a vision of Venice that tourists don’t see, and it’s not pretty.

Scotland Yard’s Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers return in Elizabeth George’s immersive doorstop The Punishment She Deserves (Penguin, purchased e-book), but so does their boss, Isabelle Ardery, who exists on vodka and breath mints. There’s no love lost between Lynley and Ardery, even though or because of a brief affair, but Ardery really has it in for Havers. So she takes the DS with her to Ludlow to investigate a possible case of police malfeasance, hoping Havers will go rogue and hang herself. Six weeks earlier, a church deacon suspected of pedophilia hung himself while in police custody, but the dead man’s influential parents insist he would never commit suicide. Ardery wants to make sure the original investigation was legit so as to avert any lawsuit, but Havers keeps picking at loose ends, of which there are many. Also multiple suspects, motives and red herrings. It will take Lynley’s late intervention to prove Havers right and get the case back on track but not before readers have met three college students rooming together in a rundown house, a community police officer with dyslexia, another police officer with family problems who likes to hang glide, a bar owner with an upstairs room to rent by the hour, a homeless man with a dog and claustrophobia, and Ardery’s ex, who is about to take their twin sons to live in New Zealand. There’s rather too much of Ardery and not enough Lynley to my liking, but Havers tap dances. Really.

YA crossover alert. Maureen Johnson launches an intriguing new series with Truly Devious (HarperCollins, purchased e-book), which is somewhat reminiscent of  her Shades of London series, with its boarding school setting and teenage protagonist. But Ellingham Academy was established by an eccentric tycoon in rural Vermont, and only accepts the best and the brightest, for whom tuition is free. Stevie Bell gets in because of her obsession with true crime and detecting skills, and she vows to solve an infamous cold case despite her panic attacks. Back in 1936, the founder’s wife and daughter were kidnapped and a student died. The only clue was a nasty rhyme signed “Truly Devious.” Just as Stevie is getting used to the weirdness that is Ellingham and her fellow students, Truly Devious appears to strike again and the book ends with a cliffhanger. Johnson increases the suspense of the Christie-like case by alternating narratives between present day and 1936. Waiting for the next installment is going to be difficult, but I’ve had experience with Brittany Cavallaro’s Charlotte Holmes  series, which continues with The Case for Jamie (HarperCollins, library hardcover). The first book, A Study in Charlotte, found Sherlock Holmes’ descendant Charlotte Holmes meeting up with Dr. Watson’s descendant Jamie Watson at an American boarding school, where they were targeted by members of the Moriarty crime family. Then events turned even darker in The Last of August, and as the third book begins, best friends Jamie and Charlotte haven’t spoken in a year. Jamie’s back at school for his senior year, with a nice girlfriend and no idea as to Charlotte’s whereabouts. He no longer trusts her after a shocking betrayal. But the Moriarty clan is apparently bent on ruining Jamie’s life so as to get to Charlotte, who is feeling guilty and driven as she tries to save him from afar. They alternate narrating chapters, often at cross-purposes until finally joining forces to defeat Lucien Moriarty or die trying, which is a real possibility. A happy ending? Not going to tell you.





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leonDonna Leon set her first book in the stellar Guido Brunetti series, Death at La Fenice, at Venice’s famed opera house, and she returns there in her 24th, Falling in Love (Grove Atlantic, digital galley). Returning, too, is soprano Flavia Petrelli, whose performance in Tosca leads to wild applause and a rain of roses. But it’s the extravagant bouquets of yellow roses left in her dressing room and at the doorway to her apartment that frighten her and concern Brunetti, who ties the mysterious stalker to two knife attacks in the city. Leon deftly explores the psychology and escalating obsession of the stalker, then ups the suspense at the penultimate performance of Tosca, with the violent emotions of the opera mirroring the climactic events backstage. One of Leon’s best, inseparable from the magic of the real Venice. Brava!

foundlingsThe Silence of the Lambs meets an episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent in Kate Rhodes’ suspenseful The Winter Foundlings (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley). After a missing girl’s body is left on the steps of London’s Foundling Museum, psychologist Alice Quentin, liaising with the police, meets with convicted child killer Louis Kinsella at Northwoods prison hospital. Three other girls are missing, and the kidnapper appears to be following in Kinsella’s footsteps — or following his orders. Is it a former pupil, or perhaps a member of the hospital staff? As the cunning Kinsella toys with Alice, time is running out to find the missing girls. Chapters told from one abducted girl’s perspective are interspersed with the main narrative, adding to the chilling atmosphere.

liarAn eccentric woman cries wolf in M.C. Beaton’s Death of a Liar (Grand Central, digital galley), the latest in her long-running and highly entertaining series featuring Scottish police sergeant Hamish Macbeth. After falsely claiming she was attacked, chronic liar Liz Bentley turns up dead in her Cromish vegetable patch, and Hamish suspects her murder is tied to the torture killings of a couple new to Lochdubh. But Chief Inspector Blair wants the Lochdubh murders for his own, so Hamish circumvents the official investigation, all the while dealing with his complicated love life. (He can’t believe a beautiful baker prefers the company of his rotund sidekick to his own). Still, the criminals command most of his attention  — and almost prove his undoing when he winds up in a coffin destined for burial at sea.

tombinturkeyFree-spirited Jude and worrywart Carole are longtime friends and amateur sleuths in the English village of Fetherings, but they’re on holiday in Simon Brett’s cheery The Tomb in Turkey (Severn House, digital galley). Intrigued by the offer of a free villa from Jude’s property developer pal and ex-lover Barney, the mismatched travel buddies find intrigue of a more menacing kind upon their arrival. Travel guide Nita glosses over the unwelcoming graffiti on the villa walls that suggests that Barney’s first wife died in suspicious circumstances. But then on a visit to the nearby Lycian tombs, Carole discovers Nita’s strangled corpse, which promptly disappears when she goes to get Jude. Still, Carole knows what she saw, and even Jude agrees that there’s something’s fishy in Turkey.

magpiesA book to die for. Or in this case, a manuscript. In Judith Flanders’  snappy A Murder of Magpies (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley), London book editor Samantha “Sam” Clair is looking forward to reading author Kit Lovell’s new expose. But others are also after the manuscript about a recent fashion house scandal. There are several break-ins, a courier is killed and Lovell goes missing. Sam teams with her solicitor mother and a police detective to investigate, even while she ponders how to tell her best-selling novelist her new book’s a bomb and deal with back-stabbing colleagues. Flanders takes a page from Lovell, and dishes the dirt on the insular world of publishing. First in a series, we hope.

kings“The past is a different country.” No kidding. William Shaw calls up the exotic land of the Swinging Sixties in The Kings of London (Little, Brown, digital galley), the second in a trilogy that began with the very good She’s Leaving Home. DS Paddy Breen and his younger colleague Helen Tozer encounter the counterculture of drug dealers and art dealers, hippies and squatters while investigating several nasty fires. One charred corpse is eventually identified as a politician’s wayward son. Heroin is the real villain here, along with the gangs controlling its trade and the dirty cops looking the other way.







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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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rageKeeping secrets, telling lies, they require the same skill,” says former FBI agent Brigid Quinn near the beginning of Rage Against the Dying (St. Martins, digital galley), an engrossing first mystery from Becky Masterman.

Brigid is willing to tell her age (59), but there’s a lot she hasn’t told her new husband and her Tucson neighbors. Like how she was an  undercover agent bent on catching human traffickers and sexual predators, and how she is haunted by the memories of one case that went wrong. It’s easier to feel like she’s still undercover, temporarily posing as a “Southwestern Woman of a Certain Age,” keeping house and cooking meals, walking the dogs and collecting interesting rocks. “No one likes a woman who knows how to kill with her bare hands.”

But Brigid will have to call on all her old skills when the local FBI office busts a truck driver with a mummified corpse in his cab and who claims to be the infamous Route 66 serial killer. Floyd Lynch certainly knows the creepy details of the murders that were kept from the public, and, in exchange for a plea deal, he’ll lead them to the body of Brigid’s young protegee, Jessica, who vanished years ago while on the job. Brigid is brought in to help tie up the loose ends, like contacting Jessica’s widowed father, but then begins to doubt Lynch’s confession.

Masterman uses many of the traditional serial killer tropes, including icky forensic details, but she puts enough spin on the plot and convincing characters to make Rage Against the Dying something singular. Although let’s hope that this isn’t the only adventure for feisty, flawed “Stinger” Quinn.

aimeeIntrepid and chic Parisian PI Aimee Leduc is once again running in heels on the cobblestones, and/or racing her Vespa through the dark honeycombs of the City of Light in Murder below Montparnesse (Soho Crime, digital galley), the 13th entry in Cara Black’s winning series. Of course, it’s just Aimee’s luck that she’s a passenger in a borrowed classic Citroen when it runs over a man in the scruffy bohemian neighborhood.

“A man dead, her friend injured and in police custody, an old man who claimed to know her mother, and now a stolen painting. A sour aftertaste remained in her mouth and it wasn’t from the vodka.”

The painting may well be a long-lost Modigliani, and Aimee’s week goes from bad to worse as she encounters vengeful Serbs, moneyed Russians, conniving heirs, murderous thieves and cunning cops, or flics. Meanwhile, her business partner Rene is discovering his new job as a Silicon Valley security consultant comes with unexpected strings necessitating a sudden flight to Mexico. Just wait until he hears  about his beloved Citroen. The fast-paced narrative cuts back and forth between the two detectives before a startling finale that promises big changes for Aimee and company.

goldeneggJust as Black immerses readers in Paris, so does Donna Leon with Venice, contrasting its splendid architecture, art, culture and history with corruption and crime. Commissario Guido Brunetti is again our guide in The Golden Egg (Atlantic Monthly, digital galley), the 22nd book in the series and one that hinges on murderous greed.

When Brunetti  looks into the apparently accidental death of a deaf and mentally challenged man, he is surprised that there’s no official record of his existence. The man’s secretive mother, who once worked for the wealthy Lembo family, claims her only child’s identification papers were stolen long ago, and she’s reluctant to cooperate with Brunetti’s investigation.

“What troubled him was not the circumstances of the man’s death but that he had managed to live for forty years without leaving any bureaucratic traces that he had lived at all. That mystery, and its sadness, nagged at Brunetti.”

dyingfallThe mystery surrounding the identification of old bones puzzles forensic anthropologist Ruth Galloway in Elly Griffith’s intriguing A Dying Fall (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, digital galley). Ruth is shocked to learn of her university friend Dan Golding’s death in a house fire, especially when she receives a letter from him written right before his death. In it, he hints at a major archaeological discovery connected to Arthurian myth, but he thinks his life might be in danger.

Not surprisingly, Ruth is invited to look at Dan’s discovery by his Lancashire university and its underfunded history department. With her druid friend Cathbad along to help take care of her toddler daughter Kate, Ruth arrives to find something amiss with the bones in question and a nasty atmosphere on campus fomented by local white supremacists. By coincidence, DCI Harry Nelson, Kate’s father, is vacationing with his wife in his nearby hometown of Blackpool, and soon involves himself in the various investigations.

Griffiths continues to combine modern mystery with ancient history in inventive ways as she also explores  Ruth’s complicated personal life.

keepnoWhen it comes to complicated lives, St. Louis district attorney Jack Hilliard trumps everyone in Julie Compton’s Keep No Secrets (Fresh Fork Publishing, digital galley), a sequel to her first legal thriller, Tell No Lies. Four years after the events of that book, Jack is still married to Claire and slowly earning back her trust after a fateful one-night stand with Jenny Dodson. But his life is upended once again when Jenny returns to town, claiming her life is threatened and that she needs his help. Then his teenage son’s troubled girlfriend Celeste accuses him of sexual assault after he gives her a ride home, and Jack becomes a defendant fighting to keep his professional life and family intact.

I’m not usually a fan of presumed-innocent plots, but Compton’s skill at meshing several storylines,  detonating any number of secrets, and delineating credible characters kept me flipping pages, hoping that truth, justice — and Jack — win the day.

Open Book: Credit to Open Road Integrated Media, the digital publisher that is celebrating March not only as Women’s History Month but also as Women’s Mystery Month. At www.openroadmedia.com, it has a video, an infographic and a blog post charting the history of women in crime fiction. The company also publishes e-books of mysteries by such late greats as Charlotte MacLeod and Charlotte Armstrong. I was vastly entertained by the digital galleys of MacLeod’s The Family Vault and Armstrong’s The Case of the Weird Sisters.

Also, I know Julie Compton as a fellow Central Florida writer, although we have yet to meet for lunch to celebrate the publication of Keep No Secrets. Maybe next month.

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I’ve hardly unpacked and I’m already getting itchy feet. Not today, nor tomorrow, but sometime soon I’ll want to go somewhere else for a bit. Considering the state of my budget and my health, I best be content with living in Florida (yeah, it’s tough this time of year!) and letting my fingers do the wandering, flipping through pages of books of faraway places.

And I have just the guidebook, librarian extraordinare Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust to Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers. It follows Book Lust, More Book Lust and Book Crush, which are musts for everyone wondering what to read or reread next. 

I have never met Nancy Pearl, although I did interview her by phone when the Sentinel started its “One Book, One Community” reading program in 2002 with E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. When she was at the Seattle Public Library, Nancy developed the program, “If All of Seattle Read the Same Book,” which spread across the country. I remember her applauding our choice of Charlotte’s Web, and then we went off on a tangent about other books that had absolutely nothing to do with the story at hand.

Now I listen to her recommended reading on NPR’s Morning Edition and follow her at her website, on Facebook and Twitter. She was recently named Librarian of the Year and was the cover girl for Library Journal. And she has her own action figure. How cool is that?!

We have exchanged occasional e-mails on the virtues of various books — we are both fond of Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar and The Franchise Affair — and periodically wonder why some favorite authors of yesteryear (Elizabeth Cadell, for instance)  have gone out of print.  I always smile when she singles out a book I adore (Robin McKinley’s vampire novel Sunshine), and when she tweets that she just loves Jo Walton’s new book, Among Others, I order it ASAP. I trust her. 

Back to Book Lust to Go. It’s divided into short sections, “A is for Adventure” to “Zipping through Zimbabwe/Roaming Rhodesia,” and you can hop on and off at any spot, as if on a tour bus. The commentary is witty. On Ireland: “Let’s not start with James Joyce and just say we did, okay?”

Hong Kong is a place I’ve visited only via books and movies, and I’ve read several of Book Lust’s recommendations: Janice Y.K. Lee’s The Piano Teacher, Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha, John le Carre’s The Honourable Schoolboy. Up next for me, Gail Tsukiyami’s Night of Many Dreams. I’m also going to reread The Honourable Schoolboy, which Nancy loved on first reading but can’t bring herself to reread because of what she “perceived as its desperate sadness.” Yes, but it’s sooo good, and the middle book in the Smiley trilogy.

Off to Venice, where I once spent a solitary Sunday because my traveling companion had tummy trouble. After finding him some Gatorade (no translation needed), I wandered the city, keeping in mind Donna Leon’s series of mysteries starring Commissario Guido Brunetti, Henry James’ Wings of the Dove, and Salley Vickers’ charming Miss Garnet’s Angel. I even went in search of the church in Vickers’ novel only to find it covered in scaffolding and closed for restoration. If I ever get back, I’ll look for it again.

 Meanwhile, I’ve never read Mary McCarthy’s Venice Observed. And I’m going to shop my shelves for John Berendt’s The City of Falling Angels, Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy and the Great World, and Sarah Caudwell’s Thus was Adonis Murdered. I may need a map to find them, though.

But who needs a plane ticket? In my fabulous new armchair, and with Nancy Pearl as my guide, I’m off to see the world.

Open Book: I bought my copy of Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust to Go (Sasquatch Books), a handy paperback to take on your Grand Tour. The chair’s from Pier One.


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