A Great Book Recommendation

The Moth CatcherThis recommendation comes from José Ignacio, who blogs at A Crime’s Afoot

This book is my contribution this month to A Book for Maxine at Petrona Remebered. With my special gratitude to Margot Kinberg for the opportunity to pick this book to honour the memory of Maxine Clarke. For those of you who do not already know who Maxine was, let me copy the first lines at Petrona Remembered – About:

For many years Maxine Clarke reviewed, discussed and advocated on behalf of intelligent crime fiction. She enjoyed crime and mystery novels with nuanced characters and intriguing plots and particularly enjoyed those novels which explore a social issue, political idea or troubling aspect of the human condition. She was well known for loving Scandinavian crime fiction long before it was fashionable but her favourite authors were a varied and somewhat eclectic mix; a fact indicative of her willingness to take each book on its own merits.

Her online home was her blog Petrona but she contributed also to Euro Crime and was a top 500 reviewer at Amazon UK. Maxine nurtured a community of crime fiction lovers, many of whom hang out at the Friend Feed Crime and Mystery Fiction Room she founded, by commenting on dozens of blogs (especially the sites of fledgeling bloggers who she encouraged and welcomed with an open heart and mind), trying out new authors, fairly reviewing the books she read and individually recommending the books she thought her friends would like (and often sending the actual books to readers dotted around the globe).

Maxine died after a long battle with illness in December 2012. Here her friends in the crime fiction community have created this site in honour of both her memory and in an attempt to keep alive the kind of community spirit she engendered. We know she’d hate having a fuss made of her but we hope she would agree that if we are determined to have a tribute then it is right it take the form of a continued conversation about and celebration of intelligent crime fiction from around the world.

Review: The Moth Catcher by Vera Stanhope

Macmillan, 2015. Format: Kindle edition. File size: 3194 KB. Print length: 401 pages. ISBN: 978-1-4472-7831-3. ASIN: B00UXKJ0XA.

Synopsis: Life seems perfect in Valley Farm, a quiet community in Northumberland. Then a shocking discovery shatters the silence. The owners of a big country house have employed a house-sitter, a young ecologist named Patrick, to look after the place while they’re away. But Patrick is found dead by the side of the lane into the valley – a beautiful, lonely place to die.

DI Vera Stanhope arrives on the scene, with her detectives Holly and Joe. When they look round the attic of the big house – where Patrick has a flat – she finds the body of a second man. All the two victims have in common is a fascination with moths – catching these beautiful, rare creatures.

Those who live in the Valley Farm development have secrets too: Annie and Sam’s daughter is due to be released from prison any day; Nigel watches, silently, every day, from his window. As Vera is drawn into the claustrophobic world of this increasingly strange community, she realizes that there may be deadly secrets trapped here . . .

My take: The Moth Catcher revolves around the mysterious murders of Partick Randle and Martin Benton. Patrick’s body was discovered by chance in the ditch on a road, and DI Vera Stenhope of the Northumbria Police Force and her team are called to investigate. Shortly after the body of a second victim, Martin Benton, shows up in the apartment Patrick was occupying at the Carswells mansion in Carswell Hall. Patrick was house-sitting while the Carswells were off in Australia, visiting their son. The odd thing about this case is that it doesn’t seem to be any connection between both victims until, later on, it is discovered that both had a common interest on insects, more specifically on nocturnal butterflies, moths. But, what can it be so dangerous in such an innocent hobby? Soon the investigation will begin to be heading in two separate directions. On the one hand seeking into the life of the victims any clue that may shed light on what has happened. On the other hand questioning the neighbours in the area to find out whether they had seen anything suspicious that particular day or during the previous days. Although the manor house was in a relatively isolated area, somewhere down the road there was an upscale development housing an eccentric bunch of people who called themselves ‘retired hedonists’, on which soon Vera is going to focus part of her attention.

I was particularly interested in this series after watching several episodes of Vera on TV. I knew Ann Cleeves after reading some of her books in the Shetland series, but I have the impression that my preferences are heading more towards Vera Stanhope. Although I must admit that I have also enjoyed the Jimmy Perez books that I have read. It does not bother me to begin reading a series by its end, by one of its last books as in this case. Those who have followed me on this blog know my view. Sometimes I don’t hesitate to start reading first one of the last instalments iin a series, to get an initial impression about it. Later I will have time to follow reading the rest of books in chronological order, if that’s what I want, and find out how the author has gotten there. I have to admit that this book has not disappointed me, at all, and I look forward to reading the rest of the books in the series. I fully agree with Jim Napier, when he writes in his review here below at Reviewing the Evidence:

Cleeves has a keen ear for rural dialogue, and a real gift for providing layered portraits of each of her characters, sharply delineated yet nicely nuanced, and she skillfully exploits these talents in painting a vivid picture of country life. Structure and pace are also hallmarks of her novels, and dominating the whole is a clever plot with unexpected twists and masterful misdirection that will keep readers engaged until the final page. All in all, an excellent read.

Highly recommended

My rating: A+ (Don’t delay, get your hands on a copy of this book)

About the author: Ann Cleeves is the author behind ITV’s Vera and BBC One’s Shetland. She has written over twenty-five novels, and is the creator of detectives Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez – characters loved both on screen and in print. Ann’s DI Vera Stanhope series of books is set in Northumberland and features the well loved detective along with her partner Joe Ashworth. Ann’s Shetland series bring us DI Jimmy Perez, investigating in the mysterious, dark, and beautiful Shetland Islands…

Ann grew up in the country, first in Herefordshire, then in North Devon. Her father was a village school teacher. After dropping out of university she took a number of temporary jobs – child care officer, women’s refuge leader, bird observatory cook, auxiliary coastguard – before going back to college and training to be a probation officer. While she was cooking in the Bird Observatory on Fair Isle, she met her husband Tim, a visiting ornithologist. Soon after they married, Tim was appointed as warden of Hilbre, a tiny tidal island nature reserve in the Dee Estuary. They were the only residents, there was no mains electricity or water and access to the mainland was at low tide across the shore. If a person’s not heavily into birds – and Ann isn’t – there’s not much to do on Hilbre and that was when she started writing. Her first series of crime novels features the elderly naturalist, George Palmer-Jones. A couple of these books are seriously dreadful. In 1987 Tim, Ann and their two daughters moved to Northumberland and the north east provides the inspiration for many of her subsequent titles. The girls have both taken up with Geordie lads. In the autumn of 2006, Ann and Tim finally achieved their ambition of moving back to the North East. For the National Year of Reading, Ann was made reader-in-residence for three library authorities. It came as a revelation that it was possible to get paid for talking to readers about books! She went on to set up reading groups in prisons as part of the Inside Books project, became Cheltenham Literature Festival’s first reader-in-residence and still enjoys working with libraries.

In 2006 Ann was awarded the Duncan Lawrie Dagger (CWA Gold Dagger) for Best Crime Novel, for Raven Black, the first book in her Shetland series. In 2012 she was inducted into the CWA Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame. Ann lives in North Tyneside. Ann Cleeves will be presented with the CWA Diamond Dagger at the CWA’s Dagger Awards ceremony in London on 26 October 2017. Previous winners of the CWA Diamond Dagger include P.D. James, John Le Carre, Dick Francis, Ruth Rendell, Lee Child, and Ian Rankin.

The Vera Stanhope book series is made up of the following titles until this date:: The Crow Trap (Vera Stanhope, #1); Telling Tales (Vera Stanhope, #2); Hidden Depths (Vera Stanhope, #3); Silent Voices (Vera Stanhope, #4); The Glass Room (Vera Stanhope, #5); Harbour Street (Vera Stanhope, #6); The Moth Catcher (Vera Stanhope #7) and The Seagull (Vera Stanhope #8).

The Moth Catcher has been reviewed at Crime Review, Criminal Element, Crime Scraps Review, Shotsmag, Mysteries in Paradise, Reviewing the Evidence,

UK Pan Macmillan publicity page

US Macmillan publicity page

Ann Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope Series

Ann Cleeves’ Website

audible

Author Interview: Ann Cleeves at Scarborough Mysteries

The Moth Catcher (lit.: El cazador de mariposas nocturnas) de Ann Cleeves

Este libro es mi contribución este mes a un libro para Maxine en Petrona Remebered. Con mi agradecimiento especial a Margot Kinberg por la oportunidad de escoger este libro para honrar la memoria de Maxine Clarke. Para aquellos de ustedes que no saben quién era Maxine, permítanme copiar las primeras líneas en Petrona Remembered – About:

Durante muchos años, Maxine Clarke reseñaba, debatía y defendía las virtudes de la novela negra y criminal inteligente. Disfrutaba con las novelas negras y de misterio con la diversidad de personajes y con sus interesantes argumentos, y disfrutaba especialmente de aquellas novelas que exploraban un tema social, una idea política o un aspecto preocupante de la condición humana. Era bien conocido su amor por la literatura negra escandinava, mucho antes de que estuviera de moda pero sus autores preferidos eran una mezcla variada y algo ecléctica; un hecho indicativo de su interés por juzgar cada libro según sus propios méritos.

Su casa virtual era su blog Petrona, pero ella también contribuìa con sus opiniones en Euro Crime y sus reseñas se encontraban entre las 500 mejores de Amazon UK. Maxine fomentó el desarrollo de una comunidad de entusiastas de la novela negra y criminal, muchos de los cuales pasaban un buen rato en el Friend Feed Crime and Mystery Fiction Room, que ella fundó, comentando en decenas de blogs (especialmente los sitios de blogeros bisoños a los que ella animaba y daba la bienvenida con una gran generosidad de mente y espíritu), leyendo nuevos autores, reseñando imparcialmente sus lecturas y recomendando individualmente los libros que pensaba que les gustarían a sus amigos (y, a menudo, enviaba libros a lectores dispersos por todo el mundo).

Maxine murió tras una larga batalla contra la enfermedad en diciembre de 2012. Aquí sus amigos en la comunidad de lectores de novela negra y criminal han creado este sitio para honrar su memoria y en su intento por mantener vivo la clase de sentido comunitario que generó. Sabemos que ella odiaría estar en el centro de la atención, pero esperamos que ella esté de acuerdo en que si estamos decididos a hacerle un tributo, entonces sería lo correcto que éste adoptara la forma de una continua conversación para festejar la novela negra y criminal en todo el mundo .

Sinopsis: La vida parece perfecta en Valley Farm, una comunidad tranquila en Northumberland. Cuando un descubrimiento impactante rompe el silencio. Los dueños de una gran mansión han empleado a un cuidador de casas, un joven ecologosta llamado Patrick, para cuidar de la casona, durante su ausencia. Pero Patrick aparece muerto en la cuneta del camino que se adentra en el valle, un lugar hermoso y solitario para morir.

La inspectora Vera Stanhope llega a la escena, con los detectives Holly y Joe. Cuando echan un vistazo al ático de la mansión, donde Patrick tiene un apartamento, encuentran el cuerpo de una segunda persona. Todo lo que las dos víctimas tienen en común es su fascinación por las mariposas nocturnas, la captura de estas hermosas y raras criaturas.

Los que viven en el complejo de Valley Farm, también tienen secretos: la hija de Annie y de Sam será excarcelada cualquier día de estos; Nigel mira, en silencio, todos los días, desde su ventana. A medida que Vera se adentra en el mundo claustrofóbico de esta comunidad cada vez más extraña, se da cuenta de que aquí pueden existir guardados secretos mortales. . .

Mi opinión: The Moth Catcher gira en torno a los misteriosos asesinatos de Partick Randle y Martin Benton. El cuerpo de Patrick fue descubierto por casualidad en la cuneta de la carretera y la inspectora Vera Stanhope de la Policía de Northumberland y su equipo son llamados a investigar. Poco después el cuerpo de una segunda víctima, Martin Benton, aparece en el apartamento que Patrick ocupaba en la mansión de los Carswells en Carswell Hall. Patrick estaba cuidando de la mansión mientras los Carswells se encontraban en Australia, visitando a su hijo. Lo extraño de este caso es que no parece haber ninguna conexión entre ambas víctimas hasta que, más tarde, se descubre que ambos tenían un interés común por los insectos, más específicamente por las mariposas nocturnas. Pero, ¿qué puede ser tan peligroso en un hobby tan inocente? Pronto la investigación comenzará a dirigirse en dos direcciones distintas. Por un lado, buscando en la vida de las víctimas cualquier pista que pueda arrojar luz sobre lo que ha sucedido. Por otro lado interrogando a los vecinos de la zona para averiguar si habían visto algo sospechoso ese día en particular o durante los días anteriores. Aunque la mansión estaba en una zona relativamente aislada, carretera abjao había una urbanización exclusiva que alberga a un excéntrico grupo de personas que se llamaban a si mismos “los jubilados hedonistas”, en los que pronto Vera va a centrar parte de su atención.

Estaba particularmente interesado en esta serie después de ver varios episodios de Vera por televisión. Conocí a Ann Cleeves después de leer algunos de sus libros en la serie Shetland, pero tengo la impresión de que mis preferencias se dirigen más hacia Vera Stanhope. Aunque debo admitir que también he disfrutado de los libros de Jimmy Pérez que he leído. No me molesta empezar leyendo una serie por su final, por uno de sus últimos libros como en este caso. Los que me han seguido en este blog conocen mi punto de vista. A veces no dudo en empezar a leer una de las últimas entregas de una serie, para obtener una primera impresión al respecto. Más tarde tendré tiempo de seguir leyendo el resto de libros en orden cronológico, si eso es lo que quiero, y descubrir cómo el autor ha llegado hasta allí. Tengo que admitir que este libro no me ha decepcionado, en absoluto, y espero leer el resto de los libros de la serie. Estoy totalmente de acuerdo con Jim Napier, cuando escribe en su reseña en Reviewing the Evidence:

Cleeves tiene un fino oìdo para captar el diálogo rural, y un verdadero don para proporcionarnos retratos claramente definidos y complejos de cada uno de sus personajes, y sabe sacar provecho con gran habilidad de su talento para dibujar una viva imagen de la vida en el campo. Estructura y ritmo son también rasgos característicos de sus novelas, y dominándolo todo una trama ingeniosa con giros inesperados y un magistral desvío de la atención del lector, con lo que consigue mantener su atención hasta la última página. En resumen, una lectura excelente.

Muy recomendable

Mi valoración: A + (No se demore, consiga un ejemplar de este libro)

Sobre la autora: Ann Cleeves es la autora de las series Vera de la ITV y Shetland de la BBC One. Ha escrito más de veinticinco novelas, y es la creadora de los detectives Vera Stanhope y Jimmy Pérez, personajes queridos tanto en pantalla como en papel. La serie de libros de Ann protagonizados por la inspectora Vera Stanhope se desarrollan en Northumberland y en ellos participa también su compañero el detective Joe Ashworth. La serie Shetland de Ann nos presenta al inspector Jimmy Pérez, investigando en las misteriosas, oscuras y hermosas Islas Shetland …

Ann creció en el campo, primero en Herefordshire, luego en North Devon. Su padre era maestro rural. Tras abandonar por un tiempo la Universidad, desempeñó varios trabajos temporales como responsable de un centro de atención a la infancia, responsable de un refugio para mujeres maltratadas, cocinera en un observatorio de aves y asistente de guardacosta, antes de regresar a la Universidad para realizar los currss de formación de agente de libertad vigilada. Mientras estaba cocinando en el observatorio de aves en Fair Isle, conoció a su esposo Tim, un ornitólogo invitado. Poco después de casarse, Tim fue nombrado responsable de Hilbre, una reserva natural en una diminuta isla en el estuario del Dee. Eran los únicos habitantes, no tenían agua corriente o electricidad y sólo podían acceder a tierra firme através de la orilla cuando había marea baja. Si una persona no es muy aficionada a los pájaros, y Ann no lo es, no hay mucho que hacer en Hilbre y fue entonces cuando empezó a escribir. Su primera serie de novelas policiacas estaban protagonizadas por el anciano naturalista George Palmer-Jones. Un par de estos libros son francamente malos. En 1987 Tim, Ann y sus dos hijas se trasladaron a Northumberland y el noreste le proporciona la inspiración para muchos de sus títulos posteriores. Las dos chicas se han comprometido con chicos de Northumberland. En otoño de 2006, Ann y Tim finalmente lograron su ambición de regresar al Nordeste. En el Año Nacional de la Lectura, Ann fue nombrada lectora en residencia de tres bibliotecas. ¡Fue toda una revelación descubrir que era posible tener un sueldo por hablar con los lectores sobre libros! Continuó con la creación de grupos de lectura en las cárceles como parte del proyecto Inside Books, se convirtió en la primera lectora en residencia del Festival Literario de Cheltenham y todavía disfruta trabajando con bibliotecas.

En el 2006, Ann fue galardonada con la Daga de Oro Duncan Lawrie por la CWA a la mejor novela negro-criminal, por Raven Black, el primer libro de la serie Shetland. En el 2012 fue admitida en Hall of Fame de los Premios CWA Crime Thriller. Ann vive actualmente en North Tyneside. Ann Cleeves recibirá la Daga de Diamante de la CWA en la ceremonia de entrega de los Premios Dagger de la CWA en Londres el próximo 26 de octubre de 2017. Entre los anteriores galardonados con la Daga de Diamante de la CWA se encuentran P.D. James, John Le Carré, Dick Francis, Ruth Rendell, Lee Child e Ian Rankin.

La serie de libros Vera Stanhope se compone de los siguientes títulos hasta esta fecha: The Crow Trap [Una trampa para cuervos] (Vera Stanhope, #1); Telling Tales (Vera Stanhope, #2); Hidden Depths (Vera Stanhope, #3); Silent Voices (Vera Stanhope, #4); The Glass Room (Vera Stanhope, #5); Harbour Street (Vera Stanhope, #6); The Moth Catcher (Vera Stanhope #7) and The Seagull (Vera Stanhope #8). TVE2, ha emitido varios episodios de la serie Vera.

 

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A Great Book Recommendation

This recommendation comes from Moira, who blogs at Clothes in Books.

I always say the same thing when the question of Maxine comes up, but that doesn’t make it any less true: I didn’t know Maxine Clarke, Petrona, for long, but she made a big impression on me. She was kind and generous and very welcoming to a new blogger – she was part of a group of crime fiction fans who very kindly invited me in to their circle. The others are friends to this day, and so we all miss Maxine, who should still be here.

So I am always very glad to contribute to this site in her memory, and feel particularly honoured that this time I am doing a book chosen for Maxine – but also the book that won this year’s Petrona prize in her memory.

Where Roses Never Die by Gunnar Staalesen

Published 2016

Translated from Norwegian by Don Bartlett

I picked the right time to read this one. Compared with my crime fiction friends, I’m a novice when it comes to Scandi books, but a review over at Reactions to Reading  convinced me to try this one – Bernadette, the proprietor, is always reliable. She doesn’t just write great reviews, she also matches my tastes. (Secretly I enjoy her slamming reviews of books she doesn’t like almost more than the good ones.)

Anyway, she did a good job selling this, and unsurprisingly I loved it – and then I surfaced from reading it to find it had won the Petrona Award. That’s the literary prize founded in honour of our much-missed friend Maxine Clarke, who blogged as Petrona and died a few years ago. The award is for a book she would have liked, and I think she’d have loved this one.

Varg Veum is a private investigator in the tradition and spirit of the great US crime books: maybe washed up, has a messy personal life, is an alcoholic, has made enemies. It is 2002, and he is asked to look again at the case of a 3-year-old girl who went missing from outside her house 25 years earlier. One of the remaining witnesses died in a strange and random robbery attempt, and the child’s mother was reminded that she is running out of time, a statute of limitations is about to impose itself.

There was a group of families living in a housing co-op: all friends, most with children. Many of the relationships didn’t survive the era of the disappearance, though Veum turns up other reasons for that. Slowly he works his way through the list of those involved, calling in favours and following  instincts and intuition – his own and others.  Norwegian life and ways are laid out for us in a most appealing way. The people are varied, some good some bad, all distinctive in their characters. Facts are teased out till eventually Veum reaches the truth. Sometimes, as in the extract above, we see the events of 25 years before through the other characters’ eyes.

There is some great dialogue – like this exchange with a retired colleague

‘But if there’s anything else you need, you know where to find me.’
‘Yes, if you haven’t gone to the fjord, that is.’
‘I never go so far that I can’t find my way back.’
‘Wish I could say the same.’

And during an uncomfortable conversation:

Like two experienced synchronised swimmers we raised our cups of coffee at the same time, staring furiously at each other. Neither of us liked what he saw and we didn’t try to conceal it.

And sadly Veum breaks his resolution not to drink:

‘You can allow yourself one glass.’
‘Well…’ All of a sudden my throat was drier than a temperance preacher’s on the booze cruiser from Denmark. ‘One then.’

The little housing co-op is an important part of the book: much is made of the coloured houses, the closeness of the group, the function room where the New Year’s Eve party above is being held, the atmosphere and undercurrents of the group.

The five houses had been built in a kind of horseshoe shape. The tall two-storey facades, painted in strong contrasting colours, and the gently pitched roofs to the back betrayed their 1970s origins. The house forming the base of the horseshoe was the biggest. It had been painted red, as was one of the others; two were yellow and one was white.

And pictures of Bergen houses suggest that these colours were not unusual.
I thought it was a marvellous book, I very much enjoyed it. I’m faintly concerned by the fact that this was  the 19th book about Veum: I don’t have time to commit to a new series! But it would be quite wrong to take against Staalesen (or his translator Don Bartlett, who seems very good) on those grounds. The tropes of this book are familiar, we’ve all read many books with similar setups, similar PIs, similar families, similar investigations. But Staalesen takes the ingredients and makes something magical from them, something very different. He surely deserves this prize.

A Great Book Recommendation

This recommendation comes from Bill Selnes, who blogs at Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan

A Book For Maxine in 2017

Another July is almost gone and I have been thinking about Maxine  Clarke and a book I would have recommended to her were she still with us. I miss her and think often of the loss she was to the world of blogging. I appreciate the loss to family, non-virtual friends and colleagues is much greater. Considering the loss to her virtual friends prompted my recommendation for 2017.

Last fall I read Conclave by Robert Harris. I found it an interesting, even thought provoking book, until I reached the end. I found the ending implausible and my appreciation of the book significantly diminished. A good blogging friend, Bernadette, at her fine blog, Reactions to Reading, was Australian blunt. She found the ending absurd. On reflection I agree with Rebecca.

I would have wanted to recommend the book to Maxine without telling her my thoughts on the ending and see what her response would have been to the conclusion. I think her observations would have been well worth any irritation with me for not warning her about the ending. One of the reasons I loved her blog was that she was unsparing in her reviews if a book did not find favour with her.

Here is the review I posted of Conclave.

****

Conclave by Robert Harris – Cardinal Lomelli, Dean of the College of Cardinals, is called to the Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican City at 2:00 in the morning. His fear that the Holy Father, the pope, has died are confirmed on his arrival. He is shaken by the suddenness of the death and the consequences for himself and the Church.

The late pope, a character clearly inspired by the current Pope Francis, had agitated the upper leadership of the Church. His willingness to consider and occasionally embrace change has upset the traditionalists. His commitment to reforming the finances of the Church has scared the many who have profited from their positions. The Church is among the world’s most bureaucratic of institutions at the Vatican.

An unsettled Church must now select a new pope through a conclave of the cardinals who are under 80 years of age.

Cardinal Lomelli, as Dean, organizes and presides over the conclave. Following precise rules set down over centuries he prepares the Sistine Chapel for the voting and the Casa Santa Marta as the residence for the cardinals.

Over the next 3 weeks 117 cardinals arrive in Rome from all the corners of the world. Among Lomelli’s first surprises is the arrival of Vincent Benitez from Iraq. He provides documentation that the deceased pope had recently created him a cardinal in pectore (in his heart). It is an appointment where the pope, usually for the safety of the new cardinal, does not announce the appointment even to the highest ranking members of the Curia. There will be 118 voters.

For the election each cardinal is to look into his conscience and vote for the cardinal he considers best. Campaigning is discreet but fierce. Will the papacy be returned to an Italian after a trio of non-Italian popes? Could it be a cardinal chosen  from one of the First World countries who have never had a pope? Can the cardinals support a candidate from one of the poorest nations of the world?

What struck me was the measured pace of a vote for each and every ballot. Each of the names of the cardinals is called out and he affirms his presence. Each writes his chosen name on a ballot and, in order of seniority, individually goes to the urn and deposits the ballot. Those counting the vote announce the name on a ballot as it is unfolded. It is a ritual so different from modern voting practices where large groups vote with the push of a button and the results are tallied instantly. Each vote of the conclave takes hours. The process offers time for contemplation and prayer.

With the cardinals sequestered from the world there is never a break from the intensity of the decision. They eat, talk and vote together.

Unexpected issues arise that affect the leading candidates. The cardinals are not without sin. It is a thriller but with a stately tempo. Bodies do not fill the Sistene Chapel.

I appreciated how Harris creates a tension that builds and builds. I wish more thriller writers could accept tension does not have to result from constant violent action.

I found myself anxious to know the result of the next ballot. Harris convincingly places the shifting vote totals between the traditionalists, the progressives and the non-aligned.

As a Catholic I appreciated his balanced approach. Many writings about the Church today can focus on no more than scandals. Little regard is given to the dedicated religious who work to meet the spiritual and temporal needs of the faithful.

Harris writes so well of historic events. He effortlessly inserts information that enhances the plot. However, I was disappointed in the ending. There was one twist too many with that final twist a contrived political statement about the Church. It spoiled my enjoyment of a well written book. But for the conclusion Harris had a great book.

A Great Book Recommendation

before-fall-noah-hawley-hardcover-cover-artThis recommendation comes from Patti Abbott, who blogs at Pattinase.

Before the Fall, Noah Hawley
 
Noah Hawley is the showrunner for FARGO, a TV series I think highly of. So when he published a book (his fourth actually) I was interested. And when it was available as an ebook for a $1.99, I pounced. I wonder who takes the hit when Amazon and other platforms do this: the author, the publisher, the platform?
 
Before the Fall is a thriller and a well-done one. The unexplained crash of a small private plane carrying a family of four, some friends, a small crew, and a body guard happens in the first chapters. The family ‘s a wealthy one and attempts have been made to kidnap their child before. Each of the plane’s passengers gets their own back story as we follow the progress of the investigation. Each story offers a possible reason for the crash.
 
There are two survivors, Scott, an artist and acquaintance of the family and the family’s four-year old son. Scott made an heroic swim to save them both. (An interesting side note is Scott became an excellent swimmer as a child after watching Jack Lalanne haul a ship through his swimming prowess). And yet Scott’s heroism also comes under scrutiny. His paintings are all of disaster scenes. Did he create his own? There are lots of red herrings but well integrated ones.
 
If I have a criticism of the book, which was mostly terrific, it would be that the back stories were too long, especially those for lesser characters. And the ending was perhaps too pedestrian given the possibilities offered us. But isn’t that how life often is? A very good late summer read, but maybe not on a plane flight.

A Great Book Recommendation

The Lost GIrlsThis recommendation comes from Margot Kinberg, who blogs at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...  

As a way of remembering the late and much-missed Maxine Clarke, and of building a resource of fine crime fiction novels, Bill Selnes at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan had a terrific idea. Each month, different crime fiction bloggers could contribute a post about a book they would recommend to Maxine.  This is my contribution.

Wendy James’ The Lost Girls 

As The Lost Girls begins, forty-four-year-old New South Wales antique shop owner Jane Tait gets some disturbing news from her daughter, Jess. Documentary filmmaker Erin Fury is working on a new project about families who’ve survived the murder of one of their members. According to Jess, Fury wants to interview the Tait family about the 1978 murder of Jane’s cousin, Angela Buchanan.

For Jane, her brother Michael ‘Mick,’ and her parents. Doug and Barbara Griffin, Angela’s death was a tragedy they’ve all tried to put behind them, although it’s had a profound impact on all of their lives. Still, Jane agrees to be interviewed, and we learn about the murder.

In 1978, fourteen-year-old Angela spent the summer with the Griffin family. During her visit, she made friends with Mick and several of his friends, and the group spent quite a lot of time together, mostly playing pinball and hanging out, as teenagers do. One day, Angela disappeared. Her body was later discovered, strangled, with a scarf wrapped over her head. At first, the police concentrated their attention on the members of the Griffin family; in fact, they actively suspected Mick for a time.

Everything changed, though, when another girl was found dead a few months later. This time, the victim was sixteen-year-old Kelly McIvor. She, too, was found with a scarf around her. Soon, the police liked the two killings, and the press dubbed the murderer, ‘The Sydney Strangler.’ Nothing much came of the investigation, though, and it’s gone cold.

With Erin Fury bringing it all up again, Jane and her family members revisit the murder. Bit by bit, we learn what really happened to Angela, what led to it, and what happened to Kelly McIvor. In the end, we discover that these murders aren’t what they seem on the surface.

There are several reasons I think Maxine would have enjoyed this book. One of them is the layers of character in the novel. Maxine liked books with character depth and complex relationships, and that’s certainly the sort of book this is. As the story goes on, we see how multidimensional these characters really are. Some are not what they seem; all are more than you might think at first. And throughout the novel, we get an increasingly clear picture of the character of Angela Buchanan. As Fury interviews the members of the family, each provides a different perspective on the victims, and that helps us get to know them better.

Maxine would, I think, also have liked sort of mystery this is. The truth about the deaths is revealed layer by layer, and Maxine would have appreciated the motive. She was never one for motives that lacked credibility, or for killers who just killed for pleasure. And she had her fill or psychotic serial killers. This isn’t that sort of novel at all. The motive here is, if you will, a much more human one. And Maxine liked novels where issues were brought to the human level.

Another element of this novel that Maxine would likely have appreciated is that James shows us, through the experience of one family, the impact of grief and loss on more or less ordinary people. Maxine disliked melodrama, preferring instead the stories of real people facing the circumstances of the plot. That’s the sort of novel this is. As the story is told, we see that Angela’s loss has devastated the family members, each in a different way. And none of them really talk about it or face it. The interviews and forthcoming documentary make avoiding the topic impossible, and James shows what that’s like for them.

The story has an authentic New South Wales setting, and Maxine would have liked that, too, I think. She appreciated books with a solid sense of place. The same thing might be said of the time in which the book is set. Part of the novel takes place in the here and now, as the (now older) characters are interviewed, and as we see what happens to them as a result of facing Angela’s murder. The other part of the novel is set in 1977 and 1978 (with one short bit set in 1982), and James places the reader there distinctly. Clothes, speech patterns, and so on all reflect those two different times, and the place.

The focus of this novel is much more on psychological suspense than it is on the actual murders, and Maxine would have liked that, I think. Violence is almost inevitable in a crime novel, and Maxine didn’t flinch at it. But at the same time, she appreciated books where the violence doesn’t take over the plot. This book is like that. There is violence, but it’s really its impact on the characters, more than the violence itself, that is central to the story.

The story is told in mostly the present tense, with different points of view presented in different interviews and chapters. Present tense wasn’t Maxine’s first choice, but I think she’d give this one a pass for that.

The Lost Girls tells the story of the loss of a young girl, and impact both her life and her death have had on everyone around her. It takes place in a distinctly Australian setting, and shows what life was like both when the murder happened, and in the present day. I think Maxine would have liked it very much. I only wish she were here to read it.

 

A Great Book Recommendation

Rogue LawyerThis Recommendation Comes from Bill Selnes, who blogs at Mystery and More From Saskatchewan

Another July has come and I have spent time this month thinking about what book I have read in the past year that I would recommend to Maxine if she was still with us. After looking through a year’s reading I have decided upon Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham.

I have chosen Rogue Lawyer because Sebastian Rudd is such a great character. In a departure from my usual method of recommendation for Maxine I am putting up my post about Sebastian rather than the post in which I reviewed the book.

Maxine loved many types of books. Browsing in Petrona reminded me of how many great posts she had in the blog. Among those posts is her review of Grisham’s book, The Litigators. She enjoyed the book and liked many, not all, of Grisham’s books.

I believe she would have found Sebastian as brilliant a character as I found him when I raced through the book. In particular, I think Maxine would have appreciated his passion for fighting for the individual in the courts of the United States.

I think of you often Maxine.

****

Sebastian Rudd in Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham – I am confident I have just read the next Grisham book to be made into a Hollywood feature film. Sebastian Rudd is a larger than life criminal lawyer swashbuckling his way through the criminal and occasionally civil courts of an unnamed 1,000,000 inhabitant mid-America city.

Rudd is fearless. He challenges the police, opposing counsel, witnesses, judges and clients. Anyone looking for a fight he will make it a brawl.

He despises the tactics and actions of overly aggressive and unethical district attorneys and police.

Rudd has a brutally wicked wit that he rarely restrains in and out of court.

Rudd is as far from the grey clad lawyers occupying the towers of corporate law in Manhattan as possible in America.

He is the second American fictional lawyer to function from a rolling office. Where Michael Connelly’s lawyer, Mickey Haller, practises criminal law in Los Angeles from the back seat of a Lincoln it is a custom equipped van for Rudd. While Haller chose mobility Rudd was forced out of his office by a firebomb.

Rudd has a compelling driver in Partner, a physically imposing black man who, after being successfully defended by Rudd, has taken on the challenge of protecting and assisting the hyper-aggressive defence counsel.

Rudd has a monastic home life in a high rise tower. It is harder for a disgruntled _______ (pick any of the above he has confronted) to attack him in such a residence.

To while away the sleepless hours he regularly endures Rudd has a full size pool table occupying his den / living room and plays games against himself.

While he has little time in his hectic life for the ladies he is the father of a 7 year old boy, Sketcher, who is surprisingly normal despite his father’s chaotic life and his mother’s tumultuous lesbian relationship.

Rudd is really the type of daring courtroom lawyer all litigators wish we could be if we did not care about consequences. He is dancing on the edge every day.

And, by the way, he is a part owner of an upcoming professional cage fighter looking to reach the upper echelons of mixed martial arts. Rudd wears a brilliant yellow jacket and cap as one of the fighter’s handlers.

What leading male actor in Hollywood would not leap at the opportunity to play Rudd in the movies? Grisham thinks Rogue Lawyer and Rudd would be better suited to being a T.V. series. It has been a decade since one of his books has become a movie. Grisham, in a CBS interview, provided encouraging news that he hopes Rudd will return in future books as he has lots of adventures to tell readers.

A Great Book Recommendation

 

The Hidden LegacyThis recommendation comes from Cleo, who blogs at Cleopatra Loves Books

The Hidden Legacy by GJ Minett

 

Although I never ‘knew’ Maxine, all the tributes point towards her being a lover of ‘intelligent’ crime fiction and in my opinion this book, a debut novel, fits that phrase exactly. The Hidden Legacy doesn’t just have excellent plotting, it is one of those books that ask the big ‘moral’ questions wrapped up in a story that touches on some big issues.

With the action opening with a heinous crime committed  in a school playground in the city of Gloucester in 1966 in one of the most ‘grab-you-by-the-throat’ scenes I’ve ever read you could be forgiven for thinking that this book is all about the action, you’d be wrong. Not that there isn’t plenty of action, but this book is one of those that will make you think, let you decide whereabouts on the line of justice do you stand? Are some of the characters actions justifiable, at least to some degree, once the entire picture has been drawn?

The Hidden Legacy’s past may begin in the sixties but all that happened then is bought to life by a solicitor’s letter hailing from Cheltenham straight into the hands of Ellen Sutherland in West Sussex. She is the beneficiary of an unknown Eudora Nash and with no way of finding out who Eudora is Ellen squeezes in a trip to Cheltenham to find out. The mystery only deepens when she is door-stepped by the wonderfully portrayed journalist, Andrew O’Halloran. Ellen pleased to find the trip hasn’t been a total waste of time, she after all in possession of a fine legacy and so returns to her home, and her best friend Kate and the two women start investigating the past. Someone must know why Eudora left her a cottage?

With the story set in the sixties and the life of the child perpetrator struggle into adult-hood with the newspaper headlines ever-ready to be reproduced every time another child commits a crime the reader is invited to question should anyone be expected to pay for the rest of his life for an act committed as a child, however appalling that act may have been? This book simultaneously looks at the role of the media in such instances, does the need to sell papers really justify the hounding of that person, forever, no matter what consequences that has on him and everyone who knows him? Worthy yet difficult questions, I think you’ll agree.

This story touches on all the good things that make for an interesting read; secrets, past tragedies, along with their consequences, and the human need to protect others. It also tackles the far bigger issue of redemption and not in a way that is a common in a debut author, G.J. Minett puts these decisions firmly in his reader’s hands, in that this book, which is expertly-plotted, peopled by fascinating and complex characters, can be read as a story with a mystery to be solved, or you can ponder on where the moral rights and wrongs really lie. How far back in time do you have to go to get to the events that led to the tale that unfolds?

Despite the big questions the author never forgets that many of us read for pure entertainment so as well as having characters who are far from being two-dimensional the story is engaging, the switching of timelines and narratives expertly handled thereby giving the reader many different viewpoints as well as a sense of place and time, all topped off with a cracking good mystery.

Ever since I read this book, I have continued to ponder some of these questions and wonder how realistic some of the answers to them really are especially when emotions are added into the mix, so I hope that Maxine would agree with me that this belongs in the genre of intelligent crime and that she too would have appreciated the fine storytelling that backs up this story, which is one to make you think.