by Terrance V. Mc Arthur
& Gloria & Theodore Feit
Here are a bunch of mystery/fantasy book reviews for you to consider for your 2012 reading list! Enjoy! Among them are the latest books from J.A. Jance, Ian Rankin and Iris Johansen.
Crossed by Ally Condie
Review by Terrance V. Mc Arthur
Crossed is part two of the series Ally Condie started with Matched. Some readers and reviewers are upset because it isn’t just like Matched. I’m happy to see that it isn’t the same, even though I loved the first book!
In the previous book, Cassia found some cracks in the perfection of her Society when the picture of her perfect mate showed another boy for a few seconds. Torn between Xander (the smart boy-next-door) and Ky (an Aberration who doesn’t fit the pattern of the Society), Cassia begins to see ways this perfect world isn’t so perfect. People live full lives until they are 80, when they have a last day and their lives are ended. Art, music, poetry, literature, and even dresses have been winnowed down to an approved 100 in each field. The society provides pre-cooked meals for everybody, so people don’t know how to cook for themselves.
In the new book, Cassia is in the Outer Provinces, trying to find Ky, but she thinks about Xander a lot. There are abandoned villages peopled with misfits so the enemy will have something to bomb, new characters that turn a romantic triangle into a three-dimensional polygon with diagonals and intersections, and rumors of a rebellion called the Rising and its leader called the Pilot (who many characters think are other characters in the book, which causes several — “I think he is the Pilot,” — “Him? But I thought YOU were the Pilot” — moments).
The story is told from two viewpoints, Ky’s and Cassia’s, in alternating chapters, instead of the Cassia-based narrative of Matched. This may cause confusion for some readers, until they notice that–after the chapter number–it has the name of the character telling that part of the story.
It’s a more complex structure, which is one of the reasons I liked it. The story involves a lot of travel, as Ky escapes from a deathtrap village into the Carving, a territory of winding canyons and secrets, and as Cassia tries to follow his footsteps through a landscape inspired by the canyon lands of southern Utah.
Some reviews complain about a lack of action in Crossed, but I think there is actually more action in this book than in the first one. More layers of the Society’s underbelly are uncovered, the relationships are thornier, and the secrets are darker. Through it all runs fragments of poems that aren’t approved by the Society and Cassia’s attempts to create her own poetry.
It’s a rich, many-layered journey, with echoes that range from Ray Bradbury to Mark Twain, and it’s worth the trip.
A Vine in the Blood by Leighton Gage
Review by Gloria Feit
This is the fifth novel in the series, referred to as the Inspector Mario Silva Investigations, and it is every bit as delightful as the others. “Delightful” might be a strange adjective for a book concerning kidnapping and murder, but it is entirely fitting.
Football (or, as the Americans call it, ‘soccer’) is the most popular sport in Brazil, and the FIFA World Cup the premier event in that sport, and Tico Santos, known as The Artist, is considered the greatest player in the history of the sport. As the book opens, three weeks before the first game is to take place in Brazil (the only country to have won the Cup five times and hosting the series for the first time in more than sixty years), Juraci Santos, his mother, is kidnapped. Other victims are Juraci’s servants, two young women brutally murdered.
The effect in the country is devastating – does Brazil have a chance of beating Argentina without their star player? The headlines speak of nothing else, and the pressure on the police, and on Director Mario Silva, is enormous. The possibilities are endless: the Argentineans themselves; The Artist’s gold-digging girlfriend; his principal rival, who wants to play in Tico’s place; and a man whose career was destroyed when Tico broke his leg in a match. Or is it just about the $5,000,000 ransom demand?
The usual complement of background factors of this series is present: The corruption inherent throughout the justice system and the police (to which Silva, called the “sharpest criminal investigator in this country,” is known as an incorruptible exception), and Silva’s colleagues, including charming Haraldo “Babyface” Goncalves (so called because although he is 34 he looks 22). There is also Fiorello Rosa, PhD and master kidnapper currently serving a 14-year prison sentence, an unlikely expert consulted by Silva to assist in the investigation, with everyone mindful of the fact that the kidnapped woman is likely to be killed before her abductors can be found. The terrific writing makes this a fast read, and one that is highly recommended.
Quinn by Iris Johansen
Review by Theodore Feit
This is the second volume in a trilogy (the first was “Eve,” and the next “Bonnie)], wrapping up the mystery of the disappearance of Eve Duncan’s seven-year-old daughter who was presumably murdered. This novel gives a lot of background on how she and Quinn came to meet, fall in love and come together.
Of course, it has to begin with Quinn near death in the hospital from a knife wound, but making a superhuman effort to get out and rejoin the hunt for Bonnie’s killer, aided by CIA agent and friend Catherine Ling. (None of this is a spoiler, please be assured – it’s all revealed on the book cover.)
I had the feeling that a lot of this book was mere padding, an effort to fill out the three-volume “conclusion,” and bringing to an end one aspect of it: the quest for the truth about Bonnie’s disappearance. The writing and tension keep the reader turning the pages, but wasn’t completely fulfilling for this reader, having not read any of the previous novels. Of course, I can’t really comment fully on this observation, nor judge its accuracy. The book is recommended, but I would suggest that at least the first book of the trilogy be read first.
Ringer by Brian Wiprud
Review by Gloria Feit
Ringer is a sly tale revolving around an encounter between a 65-year-old billionaire and a Mexican man of less than savory background. A caper novel with a plot arising out of a stew comprised of an ancient ring which may or may not be blessed and/or cursed, a spoiled and willful 19-year-old girl, a Greenwich Village palmist and her assorted relatives, and a smattering of several truisms purportedly from the mouth of Abraham Lincoln, among many other things, make up this consistently delightful concoction.
The protagonist is Morty Martinez, introduced to readers in the author’s Feelers, Brooklyn native and former house cleaner, who considers himself as La Paz gentry now that he is living in Mexico again and has a few million in the bank. The aforementioned teenager, named Purity Grant, has a mutually hateful relationship with her stepfather, the billionaire. Their toxic dynamic fuels thoughts of murder as the easiest way out of matters financial and emotional, by both parties, and somehow Morty becomes the designated hit man of each. The mantra invoked from time to time, by each of the major players, is Earn Destiny, and they all go about trying to achieve that end in a manner which seems most logical to those involved, as opposed, perhaps, to anyone in the ‘normal’ world, such as, e.g., the reader.
Purity’s speech is regularly peppered with acronyms, as though her mind is permanently in text-speak. (Being in the minority that is not thoroughly conversant with that particular mind-set, I have to admit to being unable to decipher them all. Typing this, it only just dawned on me, e.g., that “ITWYT” means “if that’s what you think.” “NHNF” and “YGAGA m9” still elude me, as does in general the concept of people actually using these in everyday, that is to say verbal, speech. Hopefully there is nothing profane in any of that.) But that only contributes to the enjoyment of this zany tale, which had me smiling or laughing aloud throughout. I have to admit I have not yet read “Feelers,” but will try to correct that without much further ado. Recommended.
The Leopard by Jo Nesbo
Translated by Don Bartlett
Review by Theodore Feit
The latest Harry Hole novel presents the reader with a formidable challenge: On the one hand, the temptation is to try to read this tautly written, tightly plotted murder mystery in a single sitting. On the other hand, its 611 pages is undoubtedly a very large hurdle. Whatever the method, it’s well worth the effort to read it no matter how long it takes.
After the travails he suffered at the conclusion of The Snowman, Harry was so down that he resigned from the police force and traveled to the Far East, where he loses himself in alcohol, opium and gambling. There, a female detective from Norway finds him, pays off his gambling debts, tells him his father is in the hospital dying and he, as the only officer with experience solving serial murders, is wanted back in Oslo to help in what appears to be another multiple homicide case. At first he is reluctant, but finally accedes to the request to return because of his father.
Still refusing to rejoin the crime squad, Harry finally gives in when a third victim, a member of parliament, is killed. There are no clues and no common links between the victims until Harry discovers all three spent a night in an isolated mountain cabin together, and it becomes apparent that the “guests” are being picked off one by one.
From that point, the case slowly unfolds somewhat murkily to keep the reader in the dark as to the ultimate denouement. Sometimes, Harry’s insights are prophetic, others off base. But he always has his eye on the main purpose: to catch the bad guy. At the same time, he is fighting his personal demons, his separation from the great love of his life, his relationship with his dying father, the politics of the competition between elements of the department as to responsibility for murder investigations, and his disillusionment with his role as a cop. More than enough, one must say, for one man.
Betrayal of Trust by J.A. Jance
Review by Theodore Feit
The fact that this novel is the 20th J.P. Beaumont book in the series speaks for itself. The novels have deeply drawn characters, tightly constructed plots, and enough imagination to keep a reader entranced throughout. Betrayal of Trust, of course, is no exception to that rule.
What starts out as a secret mission on behalf of the Washington State Attorney General and the Governor leads J.P. Beaumont and his partner and wife, Mel Soames, on a trail with deeper and much more nefarious consequences. Initially the Governor, Marsha Longmire, with whom J.P. went to high school, discovers what appears to be a snuff film on her step-grandchild’s cell phone and requests him to investigate. This leads to a much more complicated case, with more potentially far-reaching damage to all concerned.
Perhaps the most powerful novel among all the books in the series, this is an easy one to recommend wholeheartedly.
Damage Control by Denise Hamilton
Review by Gloria Feit
On the very first page of the prologue to Damage Control, the terrific new book by Denise Hamilton, the reader meets high school student Maggie Weinstock. Fast forward sixteen years: Maggie is now Maggie Silver, divorced, and 33 years old. The crux of the plot stems from that earlier time frame, when Maggie, in her first two years of high school, met the Paxtons, who became the “golden ones” in her young life. Before “BFF” became part of the vernacular, their daughter, Anabelle, was that and more – she was everything Maggie admired and, to some extent, envied. And her good-looking brother, Luke, was a Surf God.
Maggie now works for the top crisis management firm in L.A., doing corporate PR. The newest client to whose case she is assigned is a U.S. Senator with a wife and grown children, a probable candidate for vice president in the next election, whose 23-year-old female aide has been found murdered, in a scenario reminiscent of the one involving Gary Conduit and Chandra Levy a decade ago. The senator is none other than Henry Paxton, Anabelle’s father, who had been a father figure and a role model to Maggie all those years ago. Welcome to the wonderful world of “damage control,” or spin.
This novel provides a fascinating glimpse, in a schadenfreude way, into a world about which most readers know little. Maggie suspects that her past involvement with the Paxton family is what brought the assignment to her desk. She believes, and tells her colleagues, that no member of that family is capable of murder. The response is that “everyone’s capable of murder if you give them the right reason.” But she is determined to prove that no member of the family is guilty. The backstory of Maggie’s friendship with Anabelle, and how it ended, is the lens through which Maggie views the Paxtons. In the end, it’s all about the secrets we keep from one another. As with the earlier books by Ms. Hamilton, comprised of the five books in the Eve Diamond series as well as The Last Embrace, a standalone, Damage Control is thoroughly entertaining, and is recommended.
The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin
Review by Theodore Feit
Ian Rankin usually lays a foundation of current and past events in his novels. And, in this second Malcolm Fox mystery, he creates a tale reaching back a quarter of a century, when agitation and violence marked efforts for a separate Scotland. Fox, who made his debut in The Complaints, grows exponentially as a protagonist, along with his sidekicks on his Internal Affairs team, Tony Kaye and Joe Naysmith. They are worthy successors to the now retired Rebus, although more subtle in the presentation.
This murder-mystery has its beginnings in an investigation of fellow cops who may have covered up for a corrupt co-worker, Detective Paul Carter, who had been found guilty of misconduct. The original accuser was Carter’s uncle, an ex-cop himself. When the uncle is found dead, perhaps murdered with a pistol that theoretically did not exist for it should have been destroyed by the police in 1985, and Carter himself dead by drowning shortly afterward, Fox is drawn into his own inquiry outside the aegis of a Complaints review, resurrecting the turmoil of the past and terrorist threats of the present.
Rankin also demonstrates his trademark attention to character development, concentrating much of the story on the deterioration of Fox’s father’s physical well-being and his relationship with his sister, each with sensitivity and care. At the same time, the author shows his talent for integrating the setting, plot and theme, tightly intertwining the various elements. Highly recommended.