Saturday, April 25, 2015

THE RESISTANCE MAN by Martin Walker






Martin Walker’s The Resistance Man follows the pattern Walker set in the earlier novels.

The books involve historic intrigue and personal greed or vengeance. Bruno Courrrèges, chief of police of St. Denis, France, separates the threads and solves the murders.

Along the way, Bruno interacts with his boss the Mayor, with the townspeople of St. Denis, with the Gendarmes, with the Secret Service, and with his special friends.

His friends include at least two women he has bedded as he seeks a mate who wants to settle down and have children.

The books involve excellent wine, and meals with the recipes given in the text’s descriptions. They have explicitly-described local settings, Bruno doing good things in simple ways, and personal violence with danger near the end.

One thing this book adds is that Bruno makes several potentially tragic errors.

In The Resistance Man, a local war hero, a resistance man, dies of old age. At the same time, thieves break into empty tourist houses, all of them filled with art and expensive antiques.

Add in a brutal murder where the man’s head is so beaten in he is unrecognizable, a terrible accident involving someone Bruno loves, and a tragic revelation for Bruno, and you have the story in The Resistance Man.

As often happens, Bruno faces personal danger.

The plot revolves around the July, 1944, Neuvic train robbery. In his “Acknowledgements,” Walker calls that robbery “by far the greatest train robbery of all time.” What happened to the money?

This excellently-written story has a little of everything.

I prefer the Bruno books with more personal detail. This one was more history. But still, no wonder these books are always excellently-reviewed and well thought of. I would recommend all the Bruno, Chief of Police, novels I have read so far.

Monday, April 13, 2015

PREY ON PATMOS by Jeffrey Siger






Jeffrey Siger’s Prey on Patmos (2011) is an excellent police procedural with engaging characters and a fascinating setting.

Three men brutally murder a pious monk on the Greek island of Patmos.

Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis and his crew investigate the murder.

They don’t know who ordered the investigation, nor do they know who engineered the murder.

The town square murder occurs during Easter week when pilgrims flock to Patmos where John of Patmos supposedly wrote the Book of Revelation.

Twenty monasteries survive on the Holy Mountain. Seventeen are Greek, one is Russian, one Serbian, and one Bulgarian. Several of them are locked in a struggle for control.

The monk’s murder is somehow tied to that struggle.

Meanwhile Andreas’ lover Lila is about to have their baby. Andreas is struggling with whether he should do what he wants to do, ask Lila to marry him. 
(He doesn't feel worthy.)

The last place Andreas wants to be is on the island of Patmos.

Andreas, his assistant Yianni, and Andreas’ secretary Maggie (the power behind the throne), work to solve the murder.

Maggie’s faith and her desire to protect the church play a large part in the story.

I admire Jeffrey Siger’s writing skill. He tells a complex, setting-heavy story in a readable way.

I look forward to reading the next Chief Inspector Kaldis Mystery.

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Prey on Patmos is the third book in what is now a six-book series. I think the seventh book is set to come out this year.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

a short story--"Bruno and the Carol Singers" by Martin Walker






Martin Walker’s short story “Bruno and the Carol Singers” could have been named “Bruno Works It Out.”

Regular readers of the Bruno, Chief of Police, novels know that Bruno has a way of helping good people get out of jams.

Bruno can be tough and disciplined when he needs to be. He is a former soldier with combat experience. But he loves his small agricultural and tourist town of St. Denis, France. He always does his best for the town and its people.

In “Bruno and the Carol Singers,” a small-time criminal leaves his supervised work place and runs to St. Denis to spend time with his estranged wife and son.

When he gets to St. Denis, he commits a robbery and kidnaps his child from Bruno’s rugby practice. But Bruno has listened to his wife tell his story. Bruno knows where to find the child.

Bruno discovers that the man is a good person who wanted time with his son at Christmas, and Bruno works it out.

Martin Walker fills "Bruno and the Carol Singers" with Christmas spirit. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

GAME OF MIRRORS by Andrea Camilleri






Andrea Camilleri’s Game of Mirrors is deceiving.

Inspector Montalbano’s next door neighbor tries to seduce him. She is beautiful almost beyond belief, but Montalbano knows she has an ulterior motive.

He decides to go along to learn the motive. (Also, of course, he is attracted to her.)

As he and his crew investigate two warehouse bombings (neither of them having done much damage), Montalbano’s neighbor keeps popping up in his life.

The story starts as a puzzling seduction, not harmless exactly, but not terribly violent. Then it ends with two of the most terrible murders I have read about lately.

In between, Montalbano deals with mob factions at war. He watches them try to use the press to smear him. Then he works to outsmart them as they try to set him up to be accused of murder.

And, as always, he manages a wonderful (and sometimes humorous) surrounding cast.

When I looked back on the story, I could see the violence and desperation teeming underneath.

Montalbano knows there is tragedy in store. He outsmarts the halls of mirrors, the deceptions, but he does not do that without cost to him.

Game of Mirrors has all the Montalbano hallmarks--strong Sicilian characters, luscious meals, a frank sexual undertow, and a sense of impending danger.

Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano stories are an addiction for me. Though it was far from the best in the series, Game of Mirrors didn’t disappoint.
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Stephen Sartarelli translated this book into English.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN by Jonathan Lethem






Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn (1999) is unique. Its narrator Lionel Essrog has Tourette’s syndrome.

Tourette’s causes compulsive actions and speech.

A small-time crook named Frank Minna rescued Lionel and three friends from a Brooklyn orphan’s home. They came to see themselves as Motherless Brooklyn or the Minna Men.

They were gofers, people who did Frank’s busywork.

When Frank got crosswise with the mob, he went to a meeting wearing a wire, and Lionel listened as a huge monster-sized man killed Frank.

Lionel set out to find out who among the several possibilities had ordered the killing.

Along the way, Lionel finds himself at odds with the man who seems to be the most functional of the Minna Men. He learns that the backstory for the murder is more complex than he expected. And he ends up leaving Brooklyn for the first time.

Lionel tells the story in his own fractured way. But the story is not difficult to read. It is clearly written, interesting, and, as I said in the beginning, unique.

Lionel reads detective stories. He sees himself as particularly suited to live in a detective novel--

“Have you ever felt, in the course of reading a detective novel, a guilty thrill of relief at having a character murdered before he can step onto the page and burden you with his actual existence? Detective stories always have too many characters anyway.”

And--

“...in detective stories things are always always, the detective casting his exhausted, caustic gaze over the corrupted permanence of everything and thrilling you with his sweetly savage generalizations.


“...Assertions and generalizations are, of course, a version of Tourette’s. A way of touching the world, handling it, covering it with confirming language.”

Lionel Essrog thinks clearly and often brilliantly. Though his Tourette’s sometimes gets in the way, he’s sees Tourette’s as putting him firmly in the line of fictional detectives like Phillip Marlow.

I expected this to be a book I would remember and enjoy. It was.

Monday, March 30, 2015

THE DEVIL'S CAVE by Martin Walker






Some things happen at the strangest times.

Martin Walker fills his book The Devil’s Cave with cruel irony.

Around Easter in St. Denis, France, someone notices a dinghy with a body in it floating down the river.

As it turns out, someone murdered the nude woman. She had clearly taken part in a Satanic ritual at The Devil’s Cave, a local tourist attraction near the village.

At the same time, a wealthy developer with local ties is to build a new tourist hotel in St. Denis. He fronts for a myriad of interlocking companies. Police Chief Benoit “Bruno” Courrréges suspects fraud. He thinks those promoting the hotel are conning his boss, the mayor, and he sets out to prove it.

Bruno is a deceiving character. He seems to be a small-town bumpkin, but he is much more. He is an experienced soldier who fought in Bosnia. He has a network of friends who help him find all kinds of information. And he is able to quietly manipulate things to avert tragedy for St. Denis.

As always in the Bruno stories, the backstory reaches into the region’s history.

Also, we again see Bruno and the townspeople as real people. Bruno searches for a runaway daughter. He comforts the daughter and her mother as they face an unexpected tragedy.

Bruno gets a new dog. He rides his horse Hector daily. He holds a special kind of religious faith--heaven won’t be heaven unless it has dogs and horses in it.

Father Sentout performs an exorcism in the cave. The fundamentalist priest insists that animals don’t have souls and won’t end up in heaven, but Bruno knows better.

And as always, the book has a slam-bang ending.

These are wonderful stories, complex and simple at the same time. The intricate plots balance with the simple life of St. Denis. And Bruno is the ideal character in which simplicity and complexity merge.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

BURIAL RITES by Hannah Kent






Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites is based on an actual event. It is the fictionalized story of the last person executed in Iceland.

March 13th or 14th, 1828, Icelandic authorities executed Agnes Magnúsdóttir [Magnus’ daughter] for her part in the deaths of Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson.

Prior to that, the state held Agnes in a rural farm home as she awaited execution.

Burial Rites is the story of Agnes, Assistant Reverend Thorvadur Jónsson, and the farm family holding Agnes.
Agnes tells her story to Reverend Jónsson and to the mother in the family.

Agnes is a special person, a poor servant who can read, write, and knows the Icelandic sagas. She is both used and abused.

Natan Ketilsson took her in, isolated her, took her to bed with him, falsely promised her she would be the mistress of his house, and then insanely abused her. All along, Natan was bedding other women, including the other young woman who lived in Nathan’s house.

Finally, Agnes, the young woman, and a greedy neighbor murdered Natan and a visitor to Natan’s farm.

Burial Rites takes place while Agnes is awaiting execution. Agnes becomes an unpaid servant to the family of the small-time local official who is forced to house her. 

Agnes becomes close to several of the women, even finally winning over the most jealous daughter.

It is hard for me to describe what a special book this is. Burial Rites is simply-written. It is a chronological unfolding of the events with the backstory told in Agnes’ own words.

Agnes’ words are shaded by the perceptions of the people hearing them, and Agnes’ execution, moves them all.

Hannah Kent includes an “Author’s Note” describing her research. She points out that the quotes at the beginnings of chapters are from the actual historical record. Then she talks about how she reinterpreted the story in a different way than some earlier writers had.

At one point in the “Author’s Note,” Hannah writes, “I hope you see this novel as the dark love letter to Iceland I intend it to be.”

I did see the book that way, and I loved it.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

THE BARRAKEE MYSTERY by Arthur W. Upfield






The Barrakee Mystery (1928) is the first of Arthur W. Upfield’s Australian Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte (Bony) books.

The book tells Bony’s history--the circumstances of his birth, his attitude toward mixed-race assignations, the way he became a detective in the Criminal Investigation Bureau in Queensland, and the reason he is so driven to succeed.

In The Barrakee Mystery, Bony goes to New South Wales to investigate the murder of King Henry, a Western Australian aborigine.

From the start, we know the name of the man who migrated to New South Wales to murder King Henry. Bony’s investigation leads him to understand the unexpected circumstances surrounding the murder.

If this sounds routine, that’s because what makes this book unique is its detailed setting (including a terrible flood), the personality of its white-aboriginal mixed-race hero, the human feeling in the story, and the way the story mirrors its time.

At several points, Bony reflects what modern people may see as the racism in the book.

“Bony was intensely moral. The loose-living customs of the civilized aborigines, and the majority of white people as well, found no favour in the man who tried to pattern his life on that of his hero [Napoleon Bonaparte].”

In other words, Bony doesn’t like mixed-race (or mixed-class) assignations, even the mixed-race affair which brought him into the world. He considers mixing races immoral. He even describes the physical changes he believes mixed-race people undergo as they grow older.

But remember, the year is 1928. Upfield’s whole story is built on the mixed-race premise.

Did that bother me? No. I saw the book as authentic, skirting what we would today call political correctness to tell the truth of its time.

I love the Bony books. I came to know Bony when I found several old Bony paperbacks on a library discard table.

You can only imagine how excited I was to discover all the Upfield books published as e-books on the Kobo Reader.

Thanks to Kobo, if you read this blog, you will be hearing more from me about Bony.
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P.S. I've seen at least two publication dates for this book, 1928 and 1929. I took Fantastic Fiction's date.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

DOUBLE FAULT by Judith Cutler






I’m on a roll! I have read several good books in a row.

Judith Cutler’s Double Fault is a pure British police procedural.

Double Fault is different from many modern police procedurals. There is no moving away from the police, looking into the mind of the killer, or seeing things from other points of view.

Retired Acting Chief Constable Mark Turner sounds the alarm when someone kidnaps a young girl from Mark’s tennis club. Mark’s fiancée Fran Harman, Chief Superintendent of the Ashford police, takes on the case.

Fran is recovering from a broken leg suffered in the line of duty.

Because of budget cuts, a colleague’s appendicitis, and a supervisor’s incompetence, more and more responsibility falls on Fran.

A cold case breaks wide open. Someone finds murdered children (killed twenty years ago) encased in the wall of an abandoned juvenile center.

With Mark’s help, Fran and her team do what the police are supposed to do. They wade through administrative infighting to put the victims and their families first.

Double Fault ends with a heart-stopping scene and then goes on to describe Fran and Mark’s wedding.

Along the way, I found the meticulously-described administrative infighting tedious but sadly believable.

Double Fault is the fifth in what is now a six-book series. It is the first of these books I have read.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

SUSPENDERED SENTENCE by Laura Bradford






Laura Bradford’s Suspendered Sentence is a gently-told, intriguing story.

When the Stoltzfus barn burns, the Amish community gathers to rebuild it. During the rebuilding, two children helping to shovel find the bones of a missing Amish teenager.

She disappeared years ago.

Now-shunned detective Jakob Fisher investigates. The Amish community shunned Fisher because he was baptized and then left the community to become a policeman in the “English” world.

Suspendered Sentence centers on Claire Weatherly, an English shopkeeper who ends up as Fisher’s girlfriend.

Claire sells Amish-made crafts in her small shop. She has come to Heavenly, Pennsylvania, to escape a bad marriage and ugly divorce. She builds a strong friendship with the struggling Amish teenager who works in her store.

Claire and Jakob uncover the backstory for the buried teenager. Then they solve the murder in the story, a different murder than they thought at first.

But all this makes the story seem too dry. Suspendered Sentence is intriguingly plotted. Bradford fills the book with life, gentle love, and real evil.

If you can get past the silly title (which to me seemed irrelevant), I think you will like Suspendered Sentence.

(P.S., During my afternoon treadmill walk, it occurred to me. The title Suspendered Sentence refers to Jakob's being shunned and maybe to the actions of another person in the story.  Still, I think the title trivializes what is a much better book than the title makes it seem to be. Suspendered Sentence is better than your routine cozy.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

THE CROWDED GRAVE by Martin Walker






Martin Walker’s The Crowded Grave ended in a way that broke my heart.

In the book’s prologue, St. Denis Chief of Police Bruno Courrѐges dresses for a formal ceremony to honor a fallen hero.

Bruno and his fellow officers defy orders to cover up a Basque separatist group’s murder of Brigadier of gendarmes Jean-Serge Nѐrin. The government wants his heroism swept under the rug.

But Bruno breaks the rules.

In a sense, that’s the whole story--Bruno breaks the rules.

As Bruno works to identify a more recent body found in an archaeological dig, as he tries to circumvent (and then save) the new magistrate, as he tries to defend local farmers against what he sees as misguided PETA attacks, Bruno breaks the rules.

There are few books like the Bruno books. They are complex. (To know what was going on, I had to look up and read about the Basques.) But they are totally human.

Bruno loves his women with a sort of confused gusto. He cooks meals so wonderfully described that they are recipes in themselves. And he is loyal to St. Denis and its people.

Bruno is incensed when he comprehends that the French government has used St. Denis as a site to entrap Basque terrorists. The decision puts St. Denis and its people at risk.

Bruno loves St. Denis.

And that brings me to the closing. But I won’t say much about the closing except to say it broke my heart.

Martin Walker’s Bruno books are special, and The Crowded Grave was no exception.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

ASSASSINS OF ATHENS by Jeffrey Siger






If you are looking for well written police procedurals, I’d suggest Jeffrey Siger’s Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis series.

In Siger’s Assassins of Athens, someone murders the son of a wealthy Greek outsider. The killers do the brutal murder in such a way as to smear the family.

Kaldis and his team investigate the murder. They enlist colleagues from elsewhere, and in so doing, find a complex scheme that goes to the heart of Greek’s elitist society.

Along the way, Kaldis finds a special (very different) woman to love.

Assassins of Athens is not a “who done it.” It is a “how did they do it?”

In one way, I knew who did it, but I had to follow the procedure as it unfolded, the relationships of groups who hated one other and the link between them.

Assassins of Athens is a well-plotted book with a bonus--an action-filled closing.

I always feel a special rush when I run across excellent police procedurals like Assassins of Athens.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

BLACK DIAMOND by Martin Walker






Black Diamonds are rare, expensive truffles.

Martin Walker’s Black Diamond involves a plot to defraud one of France’s truffle markets. St. Denis Chief of Police Bruno Courreges investigates the market and the people in it.

Prior to that Bruno oversees the closing of St. Denis’ major industry, the sawmill. He stops a near riot.

He watches the mill owner and the owner’s son continue their lifelong feud. He learns that both of them plan to run for mayor of St. Denis against Bruno’s patron, the present mayor.

Afterward Bruno and a hunting friend find the brutalized body of Hercule Vendrot. Vendrot is the one who taught Bruno where to find and how to raise truffles.

Vendrot has connections with the Vietnam war, the Algerian war, and the French secret service.

All this leads Bruno into the middle of a murderous fight between Vietnamese and Chinese gangs seeking to take control of lucrative French outdoor markets and the restaurants they serve. And that leads to something more terrible yet.

Still, this book is not plot heavy.

Black Diamond has well-written descriptions of the countryside, a long play-by-play of a hard-fought Rugby game, and an almost recipe-like description of the meal at the wake for Bruno’s good friend.

Bruno continues to try to find love. He continues to be loyal to St. Denis, to refuse to seek greener pastures.

He continues to be Father Christmas at the annual St. Denis community Christmas celebration. And he continues to help the people of the village of St. Denis in large and small ways.

Martin Walker’s Bruno Chief of Police mysteries are among the most well-written and authentic books I read.

If you are looking for well-plotted, setting-and-character-heavy mystery stories, I suggest you try Bruno, Chief of Police.

Friday, February 13, 2015

ACT OF DARKNESS by Jane Haddam






Jane Haddam’s Act of Darkness is a complex story.

A potential presidential candidate, Senator Stephen Fox and his handler Dan Chester ask ex-FBI agent Gregor Demarkian to attend a July 4th fundraiser.

The event will raise money to promote Senator Fox’s Down syndrome bill. Chester thinks the bill will propel Fox to the prominence he needs to run for president.

Fox has a personal investment in the bill. His daughter with Down syndrome died as an infant.

And there is an added problem. Fox has been blacking out at public events. Chester suspects foul play, so he calls in Gregor Demarkian.

During the weekend fundraiser, someone murders a prominent doctor who helped draft the bill, and the story goes from there.

Act of Darkness reeks with Haddam’s disdain for politics. At one point, a lobbyist who paid thousands to attend the event says, “What do I do, after all? I talk a lot of horse manure to a lot of corrupt politicians, and we all pretend what I’m saying isn’t horse manure and what the politicians are isn’t corrupt.”

The bill favors the medical establishment without doing much to help Down syndrome patients and their families.

As I said, Act of Darkness is a complicated story. It takes place on Long Island Sound in a strange house filled with strange people.

Even Gregor’s friend Bennis Day Hannaford has a surprising secret.

Except for Bennis, none of the other ongoing characters plays a major part in the story.


Act of Darkness is the third book in Haddam’s Gregor Demarkian series.