May 16

Concealed in Death by JD Robb

9780749959401Book 38 of a series… How on earth can an author keep a story going? I will admit that I came to this series relatively late, only reading a handful of books in the last few years. But each one has been a fun read, and I look forward to the time when I can take the time to read some of the early books.

For those unfamiliar with the In Death series, the primary investigators are Eve Dallas, police lieutenant, and her wealthy computer whiz husband Roarke. The books are set just slightly in the future, but not enough to be scifi. This time the story depends on good old-fashioned police work. Roarke is renovating an old building once used to house homeless youth. During the grand project launch, he symbolically takes a sledgehammer to a wall, only to discover a skeleton. Eventually 12 skeletons are located, and Eve takes on the challenge of identifying each body and hunting down their killer.

I think what I liked best about this book is the traditional whodunit style. No fancy virtual reality suite, no super evil tech device, just simple gathering evidence and drawing conclusions. First the struggle to identify the victims, then find the links between them, if any. Some of the best scenes in this book are the moments when Eve breaks the news to the next of kin as each child is identified. And ever so gently she needs to ask about known friends.

I don’t think I have read a bad book in this series, but this one seems to stand out as just a little bit better.

March 10

Killer by Jonathan Kellerman

9780755374595In my last few reviews of his books, I have been commenting that Kellerman seemed to have lost his touch. The stories were predictable and the plots were all the same; even the characters were unsympathetic. Killer arrived like a breath of fresh air. Kellerman has returned to his roots, child psychology, to bring us this superb read.

We all know that Alex Delaware doesn’t make his living as a police consultant. He makes his money advising judges and courts about child custody. But we never hear about these stories. One case involves two sisters, the natural mother who is a real flower child from the 60s. Following a band, no visible means of support, but totally committed to caring for her baby. The other sister is a wealthy doctor, every possible advantage for the child, but little evidence that she has every loved anyone or anything. Delaware recommends that the baby stay with her mother, seemingly a no-brainer. But before long, Milo is warning him of a contract out on his life. We all know that Delaware gets himself into some sticky situations, but rarely is he the primary target.

Kellerman has come up with a fresh new plot and filled it with great characters. I know I wasn’t supposed to, but I really liked Efrem. How hard would life be for a tough teenager with juvenile diabetes? Also, Ree is just like many girls I knew in the 60s and 70s, she just had the ability to keep the innocence into adulthood.

I read this book in one sitting, less than 24 hours. I couldn’t put it down, and that is a welcome return to the Kellerman I know and love.

February 13

The Tunnels of Tarcoola by Jennifer Walsh

resized_9781742376752_224_297_FitSquareThere is something about a mystery that appeals to everyone. I have seen this book compared to classics, like the Famous Five, but placed in a contemporary world. Like these children’s classics, the action starts on page one with the kids arguing and throwing stones on the beach. But then the tide changes…

Four children, all tweens, are led into a world of secret tunnels and mysterious packages. All good fun until grown-ups start watching and following. What is so important? And are the kids safe? Can they keep each other safe? Will they still be friends when it is all over?

In a modern world where most kids are wrapped in cotton wool, these four adventurers have a lot of freedom. But then they need that freedom in order for the plot to work. Realistic? Who cares? I challenge anyone to claim that Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys or the Famous Five were realistic, and kids have been loving them for years.

Jennifer Walsh has written a classic adventure tale for modern times.

December 30

You Don’t Want to Know by Lisa Jackson

Regular readers will know that I frequently receive the Lisa Jackson books for review. She is a good writer of romantic suspense or thriller romances, however you like it. There is usually the handsome stranger at hand at all the right times, and only rarely is the woman’s family to be trusted. So you know what you are going to get when you open the cover. Guaranteed an engaging read, not necessarily relaxing, but certainly distracting. Even better, she comes up with some fantastic plots and every one is different.

Two years ago Ava’s two-year-old son disappeared while the house was full of guests. Unable to accept that he is gone forever, Ava has battled mental illness ever since. Only recently has she returned home to her husband from the hospital. She may be home, but she still hasn’t given up hope. Her determination to continue the search appears irrational, but then again, maybe not. The village is buzzing with apparent sightings of the escaped murderer who disappeared from a local prison hospital at about the same time her son disappeared. Just maybe these two events are linked, and maybe they are not. All Ava knows is that she can’t trust anyone. Her family want her drugged and sluggish, and who knows what the new handyman is after.

This book, more than most of Jackson’s books, seems filled with weird personalities. At times it appears to the reader that the whole cast of characters would benefit from some time ‘away’. Most notable is the cousin who carries a grudge in her wheelchair. She definitely bears watching.

Personally I found the resolution just a little too convenient. I can’t say too much without spoilers, but somehow the final dozen pages or so manages to tie up the whole story, Hmmm.

 

December 29

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

When this was first released I read dozens of reviews full of praise for this book. I was literally debating whether or not I could go out a buy it when so many reviews were waiting. Instead I simply had to wait for my next delivery, and there it was.

On a remote island in Quebec stands a forgotten monastery. It is a small order, founded as a retreat and creating exquisite music during each service. The choir are masters of the Gregorian chant and the choirmaster is continually striving to find perfection. Then one day that choirmaster is found dead in the abbot’s garden. Since the order is completely secluded, obviously the killer must be among them. Enter Inspector Gamache…

Once again this is a mystery revealed with style and charm. Even more surprisingly, this time I picked the killer! Usually I follow all the distractors and fall for all the misdirections. That is certainly not the fault of the author, more likely it is because of my passion for music.

And the earlier reviewers were right! Although this book leaves Three Pines, the storytelling is still wonderful and the setting magnificent. However, I am worried about Beauvoir.

December 29

A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

The publisher claims that Penny has developed a mystery series that is sure to delight readers of PD James. As an avid reader of English mystery novels, including the whole backlist by PD James, I was doubtful, but willing to give it a try. This book is number 7 in the series, too far along to go back to the beginning. So unusually, I begin in the middle.

A gallery opening in Montreal goes off without a hitch. After a lifetime of working in her husband’s shadow, finally Clara is able to make her own statement to the world. Fortunately, nothing is seen of her old friend turned art critic, Lillian. That woman has a nasty pen, and better that she ignores this exhibition. The opening party retires to the artist’s home in Three Pines and proceeds well, until a body is found in the rose garden. Enter Chief Inspector Gamache…

This is a book written in the classic mystery style. Clues sprinkled through the writing, as well as several red herrings. It is no wonder that several of books in this series have received awards. Gamache is an intelligent investigator that sifts through the information he is given, and skillfully separates the lies from the truth as he goes.

I will admit to being a sucker for a good mystery. So it is delightful to find a new series to enjoy! But I may need the odd French refresher first.

December 29

Seconds Away by Harlan Coben

In the past few weeks I have read a bunch of ‘seconds.’ Not remainders, just second books in a series. So the next few reviews are going to be for these second books. Generally, I am going to suggest that you search out the first and read both while you are about it.

Earlier this year I read Shelter, Coben’s first in a series of adventure stories for young adults. In October this series was continued with book 2: Seconds Away. Taking up the story right from the cliffhanging ending of book 1, this extends the story of Mickey Bolitar, his search for answers about his father and his work for the mysterious Abeona Shelter all while trying to live a ‘normal’ life. While Mickey is preparing for basketball tryouts, his girlfriend(?) is shot, her mother murdered and the Bat Lady is gone, but there still appears to be someone in her house. None of this makes sense, but in some strange way it seems that Mickey might be responsible.

I can’t say much more without spoilers, and they are no fun at all. Let me just say that Coben is certainly not writing for kids as a quick way to supplement the income. These are well crafted tales with not only plot twists, but character twists as well. Myron (Mickey’s guardian/uncle) is the biggest mystery as far as I am concerned. He obviously has secrets that are not being shared.

Book one has been nominated for the Edgar Award. And as far as I am concerned, book 2 is better.

 

December 22

The Bone Bed by Patricia Cornwell

Crime novellists either make it, or they don’t. It takes real talent and skill to come up with an investigator that is original and durable. A few writers have managed, Christie, the Kellermans, PD James just to mention a few. With the publication of book 20 in her Scarpetta series, Cornwell has obviously joined this list. I will freely admit that I have read them all, and enjoyed them.

This time Scarpetta is sent a mysterious parcel, a perfect gift for a medical examiner. A human ear. But why her? The original owner of the ear disappeared up in Canada, thousands of miles away! Then she begins to investigate a series of murders much closer to home, strange markings on the body and apparently frozen and stored. What is going on? The answer is delivered with the normal action scene, and once again somebody in the ‘inner circle’ is in danger.

Cornwell has fallen into a comfortable routine with her writing of this character. She comes up with a plot idea, researches the science, and then tells her story. Unlike her early novels, the story is generally much simpler with fewer twists and turns. This plot is plausible, and certainly had me guessing up until the end.

However, us long term fans don’t only read the novels for the mystery. We also want to catch up with our old friends! Has Lucy found true love? How much longer can Marino survive his loneliness and his drinking? Will Kaye and Benson ever establish a comfortable and secure marriage, without jealousy getting in the way of their relationship?

This is really only a book for the fans. But we will enjoy it.

October 27

Phyllis Wong and the Forgotten Secrets of Mr Okyto

McSkimming is known for his long, long titles, and it looks like the Phyllis Wong series may go the way of his well-established Cairo Jim books. He has been writing adventure/mystery novels for kids for as long as I can remember, but it has been years since I actually took the time to read one.

Phyllis is fascinated by magic. She has been learning all the tricks and putting on shows for friends and family since forever. But now strange things are happening to her friends, as if by magic. One bookend is exchanged for another under the owner’s watchful eye. A diamond necklace appears to disappear right in front of the CCTV camera. The police are stumped, but young Phyllis knows that given the chance she can get to the bottom of it. Then her father gives her a best birthday present ever, and before too long she knows what has happened.

McSkimming is onto a winner with this new series. Every kid is fascinated by magic and magicians, and with this premise he can explore hundreds of the classic magic acts of the past. Naturally he reveals just enough secrets to keep his plot moving but not enough to actually build a working model, so I can see kids trying to build their own ‘magic’ briefcases out in the garage. Then when the next book is out it will be something else. Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not.

July 30

Dead, Actually by Kaz Delaney

When you are a teen, living outside the popular crowd can be worse than death itself. This book will certainly change your mind about that theory. Sometimes being haunted is worse than death.

Willow is an average girl, not pretty, not popular. In fact she actively discourages popularity, preferring to maintain a quiet independence. But then she is first on the scene at a car accident. One would expect nightmares, but really the continual presence of the dead queen of the A-list group, or at least her ghost is driving Willow slowly mad. The only way to get rid of JoJo is to actually find out for herself what caused the accident and seek justice for JoJo. That proves to be a lot easier said than done.

This book is a lot of fun. For once you can believe the blurb, especially when it claims to be wickedly funny, not necessarily laugh out loud, but more a smirk of amusement. Certainly JoJo, and inevitably Willow, get caught in situations beyond your wildest imagination. And isn’t that the essence of comedy?

Dead, Actually will never be called literature. It won’t expand your mind, or even cause you to think about even once after you turn the last page. But reading isn’t always about literature. Sometimes it is nice simply to be entertained.