Thursday, May 28, 2015

Personal Comment--The Irish vote.

The Irish vote to legalize gay marriage didn't surprise me. I've read Ken Bruen. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

TARGET: TINOS by Jeffrey Siger






Jeffrey Siger’s Target: Tinos is another one of those Siger books where Greece itself, the island of Tinos, is a character.

Someone brutally murders two Gypsies. Greek authorities want to close the case, putting it down to clan warfare.

Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis and his crew know better. They uncover a plot to rob one of Greece’s premier shrines, Tinos’ Church of the Annunciation, the Panagia Evangelistria.

Along the way, they come up against The Shepherd, the current leader of an ancient group presently dedicated to protecting immigrants, especially Gypsies.

And they become involved with a historic family who gave much of their wealth to the Panagia Evangelistra.

Kaldis challenges the Albanian mob.

Kaldis and his bride face terror at their wedding.

If you want to make a mistake, threaten Andreas Kaldis’ family. In the face of danger to his own, he becomes single-minded, willing to face any enemy, and that leads to an exciting climax.

All in all, Target:Tinos is another excellent Jeffrey Siger Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis police procedural.

To best enjoy these books, read them from the first one forward. The series builds and the characters grow. But the settings vary, moving from Greek island to Greek island and to the mainland.

I think I’ve said this before. I don’t read any other books where the setting is more well handled. The Greek setting itself is a character in the book.

Target: Tinos is the fourth in what is now a six-book series. The seventh book, Devil of Delphi, is scheduled for publication later this year.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

BEAT NOT THE BONES by Charlotte Jay






“Don’t you know that most of the world’s biggest crimes are committed by men who sit behind desks, keep their hands clean and sleep at night without dreaming?” --from Beat Not the Bones by Charlotte Jay.
-----
It is hard to convey just how good Charlotte Jay’s Beat Not the Bones (1952) is.

The book involves personal greed and institutional evil.

Stella Warwick flies from Australia to Papua, New Guinea, planning to find her husband’s murderer. She is young, naive, and married only short while to the Australian colonial official who set out into bush to find a fortune.

The corrupt Australian bureaucracy in Marapi, New Guinea, tries to force Stella to abandon her plan. She wants to seek out the sorcery-ridden village she thinks holds the secret to her husband’s death.

Throughout the book, she becomes more determined, until finally, she goes into the bush to find the awful truth.

She finds the bush people more sane and oddly civilized than the bureaucratic city dwellers.

“[Our present evil is] no worse that the things we do every day,” one bureaucrat tells Stella. “It’s not so bad as giving [the natives] money they can’t spend, or stopping their festivals, or telling them they can’t dance. It’s not as bad as giving them shirts that get wet and give them pneumonia or teaching them to value valueless things. We do it all day, not only here but over the world. We teach them to gamble and drink. We give them tools and spoil their craftsmanship. We take away their capacity for happiness. We give them our diseases . . .”

He goes on from there. But what he doesn’t say is that he and the others have figured out how to become rich by destroying the native people. And they have used people like Stella’s anthropologist husband to carry out their evil.

Beat Not the Bones won the first Edgar award.

I had expected the book to be dated, but I was wrong. At least in regard to the relationship between setting and plot, the book is as modern as Jeffrey Siger’s books about Greece or Michael Stanley’s books about Africa.

Somehow the world doesn’t change.

Thanks to Soho Crime, Beat Not the Bones is widely available in hardback, paperback, and e-book editions.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

BITTER CREEK by Peter Bowen






Peter Bowen’s Bitter Creek has a plot like shifting quicksand. About the time you think you have a handle on the backstory, things change.

Bitter Creek also has the usual wonderful characters--now-retired brand inspector Gabriel Du Pré, Madelene, the old Métis prophet Benetsee, Du Pré’s rich friend Bart, Booger Tom, Father Van Den Heuvel, Susan, and a large group of others.

The story takes place during the second Iraq war. Madelene’s son Chappie, a returned soldier, is a hopeless alcoholic fighting PTSD.

Du Pré takes Chappie to Benetsee’s sweat lodge. While there, they hear the voices of a group of long-unburied dead.

In 1910, the U.S. army drove a small remnant of Montana Métis into Canada, herding them like cattle. In the process, they killed all but one small child at a place named Bitter Creek.

 The Métis are a mix of French voyagers and Native Americans, aboriginal plains Indians. They came to Montana from Canada. Du Pré is a well-known Métis fiddler. He is one of those who preserves the songs of his people.

Du Pré, Chappie, and their group (including two army buddies) set out to find the bones, bury them with respect, and set the voices at rest.

They begin by trying to find the child (who reportedly is now well over 100).

Before the story is over, someone kills two Du Pré allies, and, as I said in the beginning, things take unexpected turns.

I found this to be one of the best of Peter Bowen’s Gabriel Du Pré stories. It is at least as good as the first book in the series, Coyote Wind.

Peter Bowen’s terse style makes the story better. Also, Bowen fills the book with humor.

Before Bitter Creek is over Du Pré learns a new song (“Bitter Creek”), and Chappie finds both pain and salvation.

One warning: Extremely conservative people may find the book offensive. Du Pré and his friends are patriots. Some of them are faithful, practicing Catholics. But these folks have strong opinions.

Two examples--

“This [funeral with fancy vestments] is the sort of thing the bishop should be doing,” said Father Van Den Heuvel.

“The bishop, the rest of them off molesting children,” said Madelaine.

And--

“It’s a good thing that bat-eared nitwit [GW Bush] wasn’t president when Pearl Harbor happened,” said Susan. “He’d have invaded China ...”


Peter Bowen’s Bitter Creek is a special book.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

WINGS ABOVE THE DIAMANTINA






Arthur Upfield’s Wings Above the Diamantina (1936) is the third in Upfield’s Australian Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte series.


Authorities call in Bony to investigate the strange case of a red airplane landed in the dry bottom of Emu Lake.

The only person in the airplane is in the passenger’s seat. She is in an unexplained coma.

Bony works hard to unravel what happened. All the time he is aware if he can’t quickly solve the case, the young woman will die.

And Bony does not work alone. A local policeman, several other friends and officials (including a drunken doctor), and an aboriginal chief help solve the case. Boney hopes the aboriginal chief can use his bush knowledge to save the woman.

For a while the story plods along as Bony struggles to get a handle on the case, but when it breaks open, it breaks open with a vengeance. We see an epic Australian sand storm, massive rainstorms, and the annual flooding of the Diamantina and other rivers.

Bony and his friends get caught in the floods.

By the end of the book, Bony has helped bring two couples together. He has helped the local policeman get a promotion, and he has kept intact his record of solving every one of his cases. (There will come a time when he doesn’t, but that’s another story.)

Those who know the Bony (pronounced Bone-y) books know that Bony is a half-breed, half Aborigine and half Caucasian. This mixture is what makes him the most successful detective in Australia. He can track and use his aboriginal skills, but he also understands the “civilized” world where he often works.

These are wonderful stories. They have been hard to find, but now they are available as e-books for the Kobo reader. In addition, I think the publishers have put them out as PDFs which work on many e-readers. Also, I understand readers can find Upfield’s books in libraries through inner-library loan.

I started this series with a few paperback Upfield books I found on a library discard table. Now I read the books on the Kobo reader. 

You can find my reviews of the other Bony books bookmarked in “Joe’s Reading Lists” at the right.

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 describe good French wines, 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.

----------

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.
-----------------
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.
-----
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.