Fiction – April 2020

Despite the cover quotes, I didn’t like this. The central character did not interest me. Neither did the overlong passages of text where nothing happened other than the word count going up. In my opinion, over hyped and under-edited. First miss from this author.

Novella in the typical K. J. Parker style: a first person dialog from someone whose narrative – telling of his experiences as an exorcist – may not be the whole truth, in a fantasy world that reflects all of humanity’s failings. Easy to read, entertaining, and fun.

A youngster is kidnapped but escapes. The police are sure the victim knows who committed the crime, but the youngster is refusing to name anyone. Why? Though the writing is often a bit clunky, this is a great story, breathlessly told, and highly enjoyable.

Who is it who slaughtered the young man in the forest? And why? D.I. Helen Grace to the rescue! This is decent enough crime novel that doesn’t ever rise above that level. Not bad, but not the best.

Now you’re talking! Caleb Zelic, profoundly deaf, is an investigator who gets himself too deeply involved in a case involving the brutal murder of a friend. Circumstances force Caleb back to his home town of Resurrection Bay, meeting up with his ex-wife and her extended family. But this is no refuge. A taut tale that sharply exposes the racism the aboriginal community in Australia endures, as well as the outright injustices. Caleb is a great character, a detective with more than one challenge in his life. way. You do not want to miss this, the first in a well received series.

I’ll be brief: number two in the Caleb Zelic series. You want to read this.

Yes, that True Grit, the one that was made into a John Wayne film. It’s the tale of Mattie Ross, a fourteen year old girl of unusual maturity and focus, seeking justice for the slaying of her father. Rooster Coburn, ex-Confederate cavalryman, is no one dimensional hero or baddie, but he is the one recruited to do the job. The book is wider in its range than the film, and has many more comical moments. I get the impression reading this wonderful story that Charles Portis would have made an excellent dinner guest.

Whatever this was trying to be – psychological drama, horror, or fantasy – it didn’t work. It bored me to bits. Avoid.

This is the first Nils Shapiro story which I read out of sync, having already finished Broken Ice back in August 2019. Shapiro is a private detective, in this case investigating the death of a divorcee at the suggestion of a former police colleague. In addition to the challenges faced there, such as the involvement of the FBI (who want Shapiro well away) our hero is trying to get over his ex-wife and facing struggles in his private life. While a bit raw in places, overall this was pretty good. The character and backdrop are well done, and the dialog has its moments.

This is a Cold War spy novel, featuring grizzled espionage expert Harry Mackintosh in an operation that goes badly wrong. Seeking his revenge, Mackintosh recruits safe cracker Jimmy Walker. You can see where this is going. On the plus side, the story races along and the tension is well maintained. There are twists and turns and some veritable stretching of plausibility in some corners of the plot. On the down side, the writing is workmanlike rather than elegant. And there are chunks of cliche punctuating the portrayal of the characters. Overall, OK, but nothing more.

Fiction – March 2020

For some unknown reason, the switch to home working and being in lockdown mode has also resulted in me reading less fiction. My non-fiction reading has increased though I have resisted the urge to bone up on things related to coronavirus.

Second in the (excellent) Challis & Destry police procedural series set, largely, in the Mornington Peninsula area in Australia,

This outing for the police has them dealing with several weird incidents: there’s the dead body fished out of the ocean, sprees of stolen cars and burned letter boxes, someone attacking courting couples in their car, and the attempted ramming of  a plane by a car. Quite a handful.

The author does a great job of tying the strands together to bring the reader a believable picture of life in that part of the world, with interesting characters and their various brushes with danger.

Highly recommended.

 

This is a terrific crime caper with twist after twist featuring intrepid investigative journalist Jack Parlabane. He is asked by a dead man’s sister to look into his death in a car crash on a deserted road that occurred within months of his whirlwind romance with Diana Jager, a surgeon and blogger whose anonymity was ripped away from her, sending her in to medical Coventry.  Parlabane’s inquiries inevitably start a chain of events that will keep you on your toes and guessing till the very end.

Terrific.

 

Number three in the Challis and Destry series. Janine McQuarrie, a young wife and mother, is shot to death. and killed. Did the murder have anything to do with the wife swapping party she recently attended at the behest of her husband? And why does her father-in-law, Superintendent McQuarrie, seem to be so obstructive in Challis’s investigation? Again, the author delivers a well drawn scene and populates with interesting characters and intriguing interaction. This is in the top rank of police procedural novels.

 

Number four in the Challis and Destry series. Inspector Hal Challis returns to his hometown in the Australian Outback. His father is dying and his sister, whose husband disappeared years before, is doing her best to care for the man. Challis splits his time between helping with his father and looking into his brother-in-law’s disappearance. In the course of his investigation, he duly stirs up a hornet’s nest.

Meantime, Sergeant Ellen Destry, his potential love interest, is trying to prove she is good enough to run the Crime Investigation Unit on her own. Unfortunately, in a less than friendly environment, she also has the horrendous task of trying to find a little girl who has disappeared amidst all the consequent media attention and pressure.

The two strands mean there’s a bit of to and fro for the reader to cope with, but the inconvenience is modest and the payoff is another good read.

 

Fiction – February 2020

A month of solid good quality reading. Plenty to enjoy here.

The first in Garry Disher’s series featuring DI Hal Challis working at the Peninsula, south-east of Melbourne, Australia. Fortunately for us readers, while Challis is a well drawn and interesting character, the supporting cast is more robust and also worthy of attention. The backdrop is superbly drawn, with nuggets of observational beauty peppering the descriptions of life and death in this part of the world. The main plot here is about a serial killer targeting young women. While the plot is not as complex as some of the genre, it has enough twists to satisfy and is credible. In short, a good police procedural novel. Continue reading

Fiction – January 2020

You can tell I’ve been on holiday. There’s a lot of reading here. (Probably some of these belong with December’s reading, but at least I remembered to review them.)

Part of my Connelly reread. This one involves a dead body found in the trunk of a car. Bosch sorts it out, but not without some more danger, some twists, and the usual inter office politics. Great stuff.

Continue reading

Fiction – December 2019

Number 22 of the Spenser series, this was one of the better ones. Spenser is searching for a policeman’s missing wife. It quickly transpires that things (as usual) are not what they seem. The reader gets snappy dialog, a touch of sex and violence, and a story worth following. Recommended. But start at the beginning.

Fantasy romp that fell flat with me. Nothing was convincing: jerky dialog, uneven characterization, and unlikely motivations. The fantasy backdrop didn’t work. The story might have been worth telling, but not like this. Avoid.

Continue reading

Fiction – November 2019

This was the month I went back to the Spenser series with a vengeance.

First of a projected trilogy, this fantasy novel was slow to take off, but eventually got its act together. It may have suffered from needing to set so many base lines for future plots as it failed to grab me the way Abercrombie’s other work has. Still well worth reading, and I’ll be looking out for the next one.

Number 16 in the series. Our man – or ‘educated thug’ – Spenser is tasked with looking into allegations of corruption in a college basketball team. Is the star player being paid off? Inevitably Spenser comes up against those who do not want him to find out what is going on. Through it all, Spenser delivers his trademark smart alec dialog with no concession to political correctness. Our hero gets to show off just how good he is in this better quality encounter.

If this type of stuff is of interest, don’t start midway. A chunk of the value in reading the books is seeing how the character and his accomplices and foes develop. Start here.

Continue reading

Fiction – October 2019

Crusty Norwegian private detective Varg Veum suddenly discovers he has a half sister. His newly discovered relative has a job for him: to find her young god-daughter who has disappeared without a trace. The police are not interested. Veum takes the case and his investigation, slowly but surely, starts to get to the bottom of things.

This is a well paced novel with a great central character, a decent enough supporting cast, and a finely told tale. You can read this one (of the series) on its own without harming your enjoyment. Pretty good.

Doug Brock is a policeman who lets the job get to him. He focuses on nailing Nicholas Bennett so much that he loses control of his life, eventually ending up on suspension. That doesn’t stop Brock who keeps investigating until, in the midst of making a call to his former police partner, Brock is shot and in a bad way. Brock recovers but with one change: he has lost his memory of the last few years of his life.

Brock’s attempt to get back his life and his memory, find out who shot him, and finally nail Bennett, are the core of the book. It’s an interesting premise and perspective and the tale fairly rattles along. While the writing is occasionally rough around the edges,  the increasing tension carries you through those patches up to a satisfactory conclusion. Not bad at all.

DCI Banks investigates the apparent suicide of a young girl and the death of man in his sixties whose body was found at the bottom of a gully. The girl’s body was found in car that had been abandoned after an accident. How did her body end up there? The man was a well dressed individual, very much out of place on the moorland. How did he get there, and did he jump or was he pushed?

These two puzzles are the spark for a somewhat formulaic novel, infused with the trademark descriptions of jazz, food, and driving around the Yorkshire countryside. It’s a decent enough novel, but it lacks a certain fire. It’s almost as if the author were writing because he had to, not because he wanted to. Or, to put it another way, going through the motions. Essentially, it’s disappointing from such a well established author. If this were a newcomer it would be promising. So, maybe the author’s fame is being held against him.

I liked this much better than The Ipcress File. Snappy dialog, crisp writing, and a hero trying to navigate his way through choppy and dangerous waters involving Nazi submarines, Nazi war criminals, counterfeit currency, drug trafficking, blackmail, and revolutionaries.  The atmosphere is brilliantly evocative of the times, and the dark shadow of the forces of evil – and the forces of good doing evil – is ever present. In short what you have here is a witty, well written spy thriller. I liked it.