Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Murder, She Wrote: A Time for Murder by Jessica Fletcher & Jon Land

Murder, She Wrote: A Time for Murder by "Jessica Fletcher" and Jon Land is the fiftieth book in the popular series, and the first one I've read. Although it was entertaining, the climax was so over-the-top and implausible, along with other implausible elements, that I found myself questioning the story. It's another series that is meant for long-time fans, rather than for me.

It's been twenty-five years since Jessica Fletcher solved her first murder mystery. When a reporter asks for an interview for a high school newspaper, Jessica agrees. She's always eager to help budding journalists and writers. This young woman seems to be focused on Jessica's first murder, though, a case Fletcher doesn't talk about. She was a young substitute English teacher at the high school in a near-by town when the principal was murdered. Because she heard him arguing on the phone, Jessica was able to help the police detective, Amos Tupper, narrow the timeframe, and find a liar and killer. But, in Jessica's mind, that case was before her husband died, and before she started writing. She doesn't want to discuss it.

Circumstances force her to reveal the past to Sheriff Mort Metzger. A retirement party for a teacher from that high school brings a killer out into the open. Jessica and the sheriff are connecting several violent deaths to that first murder twenty-five years earlier. It's time for Jessica to dig into her own past for memories and clues.

As I said, there are too many implausible elements for me. Why would the sheriff, a veteran of twenty-five years at the NYPD, depend on Jessica and allow her to participate and take the lead in interviews? Okay, I can accept it's a cozy mystery, and the amateur sleuth will always take the lead. However, the climatic events are just too outlandish for me to believe.

Saying all that, Jessica Fletcher is a model for amateur sleuths, determined to find justice while asking the question, "Who speaks for the dead?" Fans of the series will appreciate the return of a retired Amos Tupper. It's a nostalgic return to Jessica Fletcher's past for the fiftieth book in the successful series.

Murder, She Wrote: A Time for Murder by Jessica Fletcher & Jon Land. Berkley Prime Crime, 2019. ISBN 9781984804303 (hardcover), 304p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Nothing More Dangerous by Allen Eskens

Allen Eskens' Nothing More Dangerous currently tops my list of favorites for 2019. For me, it's this year's November Road. That means I'm recommending it to everyone who reads crime fiction or coming-of-age novels. Loved William Kent Krueger's Ordinary Grace? Remember Larry Watson's Montana 1948? You must read Nothing More Dangerous. Eskens has been writing it since 1991. Surely you have a couple days to read it.

Boady Sanden is just a fifteen-year-old boy longing to escape his home in the Ozarks in 1976. He's suffering through his freshman year at St. Ignatius Catholic High School, where his mother sent him so he'd stay out of trouble. Now, he's a country kid out of place in the school. When a trio of seniors plan to torment the only black girl in the school, Boady doesn't do himself any favors by tripping them up. Jarvis Halcomb and his buddies won't forget Boady's interference.

Boady will come to learn the entire Halcomb family is trouble. Ms. Lida Poe's disappearance sets off the summer of turmoil. She worked in purchasing for Ryke Manufacturing, the biggest employer in town. Because money also went missing, along with the black woman, Ryke's parent company sends in a new manager, and Jarvis Halcomb's father is demoted. The new manager, Charles Elgin, is black. He moves his family across the street from Boady. The Halcombs, and the CORPS, Crusaders of Racial Purity and Strength, "a bunch of Ku Klux Klan wannabes', as Boady's neighbor, Hoke calls them, do not accept the changes well.

Boady's friendship with Thomas Elgin, a boy his own age, is challenged by their racial differences and slang. But, that's nothing compared to the fear that challenges the small group of people who live in Frog Hollow. 1976 becomes a summer of sticks and rocks, escalating to fires and guns.

Nothing More Dangerous is a masterpiece. Boady Sanden is a memorable character. Although he appears in two of Eskens' earlier novels, he appears as an adult. This is a powerful standalone, a timely novel of racism in which a young boy comes of age, and discovers the shadows in a world that isn't black or white. The title comes from a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King. "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance." It sums up the characters and the intense story. It's a compelling, unforgettable book.

Allen Eskens' website is http://alleneskens.com/

Nothing More Dangerous by Allen Eskens. Mulholland Books, 2019. ISBN 9780316509725 (hardcover), 304p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.



Allen Eskens

Monday, November 11, 2019

Have You Heard? Home of the Braised by Julie Hyzy

Today, it's time for one of Sandie Herron's audiobook reviews. This one is in Julie Hyzy's White House Chef series, Home of the Braised. Thank you, Sandie.

Home of the Braised
White House Chef Mystery, Book 7                         
Written by Julie Hyzy
Narrated by Eileen Stevens
Unabridged Audiobook
Audible Studios (10/17/14) originally published in pb on 1/7/14
Listening Length:  8 hours, 15 minutes

White House Chef Olivia “Ollie” Paras couldn’t be happier.  She and her boyfriend Gavin have decided to marry, and to do so quickly.  When applying for the license, which would only take 3 days, they learn that getting a date with the justice of the peace was projected at 8 weeks.  Gavin remembers a friend is a minister, so the two go to visit him. What they find is shocking. Five men, including Gavin’s friend, are dead, bound and gagged, lying on the floor.  The duo rapidly notices a foul odor and turn to find fresh air when they encounter two people in biohazard suits who whisk them outside to a waiting van. Gavin, who knows one of the men as a previous Secret Service agent who is now working for a private security firm, is angry when he and Ollie are interrogated at length.

Ollie returns to the kitchen to begin preparations for a state dinner for a delegation from long-term enemy Durasi in the US to discuss peace with the President.  Ollie must get everything right to promote the peace talks. Virgil, the chef brought in by the first family to prepare their meals, continues to plague Ollie with resentment, anger, and malice.  Since her own efforts at peace in the kitchen have not worked so far, Ollie tries a different approach. She has Virgil host the tastings for the state dinner, but he handles it poorly. Virgil continues to badger Ollie until she loses her temper with him, just as the First Lady walks in!  

On Ollie’s way home, she waits with a jostling crowd for the next train.  Suddenly she finds herself pushed onto the tracks. Miraculously she finds a way to survive the train’s arrival.  First son Josh is especially happy when Ollie arrives in the kitchen to give him another lesson. He is excited to learn that he can help with the state dinner too.  Across town, the secretary of defense isn’t so lucky; he is dead, and agents smell something strange in his home.

The kitchen is humming nicely, and even Josh is working hard to prepare for dinner, when Ollie finds the speech her private security agent escort is to give that evening at the state dinner.  Ollie must warn the President, but dinner has begun!

Taut only begins to describe this seventh entry in the White House chef series.  Emotions of joy turn to fear turn to shock and dismay. Author Julie Hyzy takes us on a rollercoaster ride of ups and down and twists and turns.  Narrator Eileen Stevens does an excellent job of keeping up, her voice oscillating with the action. The suspense does not let up until the very last paragraph.  Highly recommended.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Little Book of Bob by James Bowen

In the spring of 2007, a ginger street cat named Bob needed the assistance of a London-based busker and addict named James Bowen. And, Bowen needed Bob just as much. Bowen tells how he switched to selling the street newspaper, The Big Issue, and went straight. He tells that story in the worldwide bestseller A Street Cat Named Bob. The Little Book of Bob, subtitled "Life Lessons from a Streetwise Cat" is the eighth book about Bob. There was also a movie about Bowen and Bob.

If the book is any indication, James Bowen uses Bob's life as an inspiration as to how to live a happy, contented life. Bowen observes Bob for lessons in friendship, what we need to be happy, how to get the most out of life, how to survive all that life throws at us, how to be good to ourselves, and lessons in day-to-day life. Many of the short anecdotes and observations may seem simplistic, but, put together, it's a collection of wise comments about life.

Here are just a few of Bowen's observations. "While every day may not be good, there's something good in every day." Bob lets go of the bad parts of the day, and relaxes into the good moments, the contented moments with James or a patch of sunlight or a toy. I liked, "If you see a chance, take it." Bob doesn't hesitate.

While none of the anecdotes and observations last more than a page, there is some meat to the book. The chapter headings sound simplistic, but Bob's lessons really are not. There's a chapter based on Bob's life; "What do we need to be happy?" There's an extensive list, but it includes "We all need to be noticed;" we need to be independent.

The collection has short lessons as to how to get the most out of life, and how to be good to ourselves, all based on Bob's life. There were a couple times I was a little teary. The story of the woman who had lost her son, and just wanted a moment with Bob made me choke up.

The Little Book of Bob is just a short book. And, there are few lessons in it that haven't been written before. But, that book jacket and the sketches of Bob are enough to warm the heart of anyone who loves cats. And, Bowen's life- and cat-based stories are worth reading.

James Bowen and Bob have a website at www.streetcatbob.world.

The Little Book of Bob by James Bowen. Thomas Dunne Books, 2019. ISBN 9781250215369 (hardcover), 166p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.


Saturday, November 09, 2019

The October Man by Ben Aaronovitch

Ben Aaronovitch's urban fantasy series, Rivers of London, is set in England, as the name implies. However, in his novella, The October Man, he introduces a new set of characters, and places them in Germany. I'm hoping that Winter and Sommer from this book, and Peter Grant from the others, will eventually work together. However, let's face it. If they have to do that, the magical problem, "the infraction", might be so big the world could end.

Tobias Winter is an investigator for Abteilung KDA, the branch of the German Federal Criminal Police that handles the supernatural. When a body is found in Trier, Germany's oldest city, Winter is sent to a vineyard. The man's body has been declared a biological hazard, and something fuzzy is growing all over it. It's Vanessa Sommer, the liaison to the Trier police who recognizes the fungus as "noble rot" used in wine production. Although she's amazed to learn Winter can actually do magic, and she has a number of questions, she's always cool under pressure.

In this case, Winter and Sommer do have to remain cool. They'll have to deal with the spread of "noble rot", two bodies, and two river goddesses. Kelly, goddess of the river Kyll, has a story of love lost and a villain destroyed. However, centuries later, there may be a connection. It's going to take Winter, an apprentice, and an ambitious, but untrained police officer, Sommer, to face down a practitioner of magic.

As always, Aaronovitch brings dark humor to the alternate reality he has created. In fact, he mentions that humor that often comes with police procedurals, that "habitual mantle of light-hearted cynicism that is the birthright of every well brought up police officer". That's why I'm drawn to good police procedurals, or, in this case, an urban fantasy that combines the best features of a police procedural with a fantasy world.

In Aaronovitch's world, his police officers trained in magic still deal with the repercussions of World War II. And, the past is still influencing the present. There is still talk about Nazis, and the loss of the lives of practitioners of magic. And, they still deal with prejudice and racism, as Winter's boss indicates in a very pointed speech. No matter how many nonfiction books are written about our times and our atrocities, sometimes, novelists do a better job pointing out the problems. It may only be one scene in The October Man, but that scene jumps out at the reader.

If you haven't yet discovered Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series, The October Man might be a little confusing at times. Even so, if you're a fan of urban fantasy, welcome to Tobias Winter's Germany.

Ben Aaronovitch's website is https://www.benaaronovitch.com

The October Man by Ben Aaronovitch. Subterranean Press, 2019. ISBN 9781596069084 (hardcover),  211p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, November 08, 2019

What Are You Reading?

I know we're a little off schedule today. I hope everyone interested in the contest commented on the
blog yesterday for Catriona McPherson's piece. Today, we're going to talk about what we're reading.

While I'm actually reading a suspense novel for Library Journal, I've pushing a book I'll be reviewing next week. I read Allen Eskens' Nothing More Dangerous a couple months ago. Release date is Tuesday, Nov. 12. This coming-of-age gritty story dealing with racism is powerful, the best book I've read this year. Allen Eskens said that book took him over twenty-five years to write, and that's the story he became a writer to tell. I can't say enough good things about Nothing More Dangerous. My review will be up on Tuesday.

I haven't really done much reading because of Bouchercon, and then taking the time to put all the pictures up on the blog. You've had a little extra time to read this week. What are you all reading? I'd love to know!

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Guest Post & Giveaway by Catriona McPherson

If you're looking for this week's book giveaway, Catriona McPherson will announce it today. If you're
looking for What Are You Reading?, come back tomorrow.

Today, it's an honor to host author Catriona McPherson. She has two books due out this season, and she's willing to talk about the craziness of doing that. She's going to address "The Question". Thank you, Catriona.

The Question

You know the one I mean. The question authors get asked and mumble incoherently over. The question that seems so straightforward to readers who look at the incoherently mumbling authors in bewilderment. Yes, that question. 

Well, I’ve got an answer. And if I only had one book coming out this autumn, I’d be feeling pretty smug. Unfortunately, I’ve got two books coming out this autumn. And only the one answer. Plus some incoherent mumbling. 


Pray read on, gentle Critiques fan.


Where I got my idea (you did know that was the question, right?) for Strangers at the Gate is as follows: we went for dinner with friends, my husband and me. At the end of the evening, we left. A minute – if that – later I realised I’d left my bag in their house. So we doubled back on the street – not even half a block away – and rang the bell. 

There was no answer.

We stared at one another. There hadn’t been time for our friends to fall asleep, get in a loud shower, walk to the far end of the garden to look at the stars, or even start a scorching verbal domestic dispute that had left them seething and unconcerned about doorbells. 

Where were they? 

Standing there on the doorstep, I thought I knew. I reckoned there was at least a chance they were dead. And not just dead: hacked to lumps and bleeding out, their killer still standing over them, chest heaving and knife dripping.

Where I went wrong was saying any of that out loud. By the time one of the friends – awake, alive, unhacked, not lumpy – answered the door, my husband was giving me the look. The one that says What is it with you?

And Pouf! Strangers at the Gate was born: a dinner party, a forgotten bag, two corpses. And a couple staring at one another, thinking What is it with you. Add a fictional town in the Scottish borders, in such a deep and narrow valley that there’s no sunlight all winter long, and a cast of minor characters, all with their own dreams and secrets . . . why the book practically wrote itself.

Compared, that is, with A Step So Grave. It should have been easy. This is book thirteen in a series and I know the characters inside out – a gently-born detective, Dandy Gilver, her charming (but still a bit shell-shocked from WWI) Watson, her stuffed-shirt of a husband (who sometimes surprises her), her exasperating sons, her snooty butler, her bumptious maid, her devoted cook, and her Dalmatian. Plus I went on a solo research trip to the location to immerse myself in the atmosphere of the West Highlands. 

And what a location! Applecross is a gloriously remote, gloriously picturesque bit of Wester Ross, reached by one of the worst (or best, depending on your taste) roads in the country. Driving the bealach na ba (pass of the cattle) would make you glad to arrive at Applecross even if all there was there was a shut pub with a dead dog in the doorway. But what there actually is is a beautiful bay, an cosy inn, great food, friendly people and a thousand years of history. I’ve seldom been happier than when I was staying at the inn, eating the food, chatting to the people, and learning the history.


Then I came home to write the book set in that evocative, enthralling spot. And . . . nothing. I drew maps and plans, made up character names, read and re-read the material I’d amassed and  . . . nope, nothing. I wrote a book set in a ballroom dancing hall in Glasgow instead. 

Then two years later, I sat down to write a book set in Galloway, about the flooding of a valley and immersion of a town during the construction of the hydro-electric system there, and guess what happened. Pouf! Out came a story about Applecross. Dandy Gilver’s son had got himself engaged to the daughter of the family who owned Applecross House and the whole Gilver clan was off to the Highlands for the engagement party. A famous knot-garden, a family curse, a shedload of folklore and a corpse in the snow . . . out it all came.


But if anyone asks me where the idea was for two years or what shook it out of me in the end . . . I’ve got nothing.

If you’d like to compare a book that came easy with a book that came hard and late and from nowhere, I’m giving away a copy of both new novels. Just comment here on Lesa’s blog and I’ll pick a name out of the hat by the end of the week. 

*****

Catriona McPherson is the national best-selling and multi-award-winning author of the Dandy Gilver series of preposterous detective stories, set in her native Scotland in the 1930s. She also writes darker contemporary suspense novels, of which STRANGERS AT THE GATE is the latest. Also, eight years after immigrating to the US and settling in California, Catriona began the Last Ditch series, written about a completely fictional Scottish woman who moves to a completely fictional west-coast college town. 

Catriona is a member of MWA, CWA and SoA, and a proud lifetime member and former national president of Sisters in Crime, committed to advancing equity and inclusion for women, writers of 
colour, LGBTQ+ writers and writers with disability in the mystery community.