About Margot Kinberg

I'm a mystery novelist and professor who loves to read, write, and talk about crime fiction.

A Great Book Recommendation

This Recommendation comes from Margot Kinberg, who blogs at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist…

My Brother’s Keeper is the second of Donna Malane’s novels to feature Wellington-based missing person expert Diane Rowe. As the novel begins, Rowe gets a call from Karen Mackie, who wants to meet with her to discuss a possible case.

But this isn’t just any case. Mackie has recently been released from prison, where she served time for the murder of her son, Falcon, and the attempted murder of her daughter, Sunny. At the time of the tragedy, she was an addict. But since that time, she’s stopped using drugs and is trying to start her life again. She’s ‘found religion’ as the saying goes, and she wants Rowe to find Sunny, who is now fourteen. It’s a very delicate situation, and Rowe explains that Sunny and her father, Justin, may very well not want any contact. Mackie accepts that, but wants Rowe to find Sunny, anyway. Rowe accepts, and starts asking questions.

It doesn’t take long to find Sunny and her father. They’ve changed their surname, and Justin has remarried and now has another son. But they’ve made no real secret of where they are. At first, as you can imagine, neither one is at all interested in having anything to do with Karen Mackie. But Sunny has unanswered questions, and a big part of her does want them answered. Finally, and reluctantly, her father and stepmother give permission for her to have the meeting. When Mackie doesn’t show up, at first it looks as though she simply wasn’t interested in seeing her daughter. But then, she is found dead, and it’s clear that there’s more going on here than it seems.

Now, Rowe works to find out who would have wanted to kill her client. In the meantime, she slowly discovers that all is not as it seems in Sunny’s family. Is Sunny in danger? If so, is it connected to her mother’s death? Bit by bit, Rowe puts the pieces together and discovers that several things about this case are not at all what they appear to be.

Maxine enjoyed multilayered stories, where things are more complex than they seem. She disliked simplistic solutions, too. That’s one reason I believe this book would have appealed to her. There are layers to the plot, and we learn that things are more complicated than it first appears.

That’s just as true of the characters as it is of the plot, and I think Maxine would have appreciated that, too. She liked characters with depth and faults and strengths, and these characters are like that. As we get to know Sunny, her father, her mother, and her stepmother, we learn that they are not one-dimensional. Neither is Rowe.

And that’s another thing Maxine would have liked. She enjoyed strong female protagonists, and that describes Diane Rowe. She’s no superhero; she has faults, and she certainly makes her share of mistakes. But she is smart and persistent. More than that, she grows over the course of the novel, and Maxine would have liked that very much.

The story is told mostly from Rowe’s point of view (first person, past tense), so we get to know her. She and her ex-husband, Sean, are working towards selling their house, and that means she’s having to come to some closure about their marriage and divorce. She’s involved with one of Sean’s police colleagues, Robbie, and she and Robbie are trying to work out how permanent their relationship will be. And yet, she’s not obsessed with either man, and she doesn’t wallow in her personal situation. Maxine would, I think, have appreciated that Rowe is a complex person, as we all are, with her own strengths, successes, messiness and quirks.

The novel takes place in New Zealand, and I think Maxine would have appreciated the distinctiveness of the setting. She always liked it when a novel gave the reader a sense of really being in a place. And that’s what happens here.

The story doesn’t have a neat, pat ending, although we do find out the truth about the case. That, too, would have appealed to Maxine, I think. She knew that life isn’t tied up with a neat, pretty bow, and she liked it when stories acknowledged that. Things aren’t magically all right again, and Malane acknowledges that. That said, though, there is a sense that life will go on. For Rowe, there’s a sense, too, that she’ll be able to move on with her life.

This isn’t a sprawling story with a large cast of characters. And while there are moments of danger, it’s also not a thriller, really. I think Maxine would have liked that about the novel. She enjoyed quieter stories where the focus is on the characters, and that’s the sort of story this is. The pacing isn’t slow, but it’s not a novel with a lot of narrow escapes, plot twists, and so on.

One more thing is worth noting. This is the second novel to feature Rowe, but it’s not really necessary to have read the first (Surrender) in order to be drawn into this one. I think that would have appealed to Maxine a lot, as she didn’t always read series in order.

My Brother’s Keeper is the story of one family and what happens to its members when real tragedy strikes. It has a distinct New Zealand setting, and features a strong, but very human, missing person expert as the protagonist. I truly think Maxine would have enjoyed it, and I wish she were here to read and review it.

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A Great Book Recommendation

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

I chose Bluebird, Bluebird this year primarily because of the uniqueness of the sleuth. I think Maxine would have been fascinated and delighted by Darren Matthews, a classic Texas Ranger, who is African American. He confounds many rural white Texans who profoundly respect the Rangers but retain prejudice against black Americans.

I expect she would also have appreciated Attica Locke’s skill in weaving current American race relations into the murder investigation.

Attica Locke’s Bluebird, Bluebird 

(1. – 931.) Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke – After seeing Bluebird, Bluebird on many 2017 lists of best books and enjoying the reading of Black Water Rising I asked Santa for Bluebird, Bluebird and it was under the Christmas tree. I am glad I received the book. It is a wonderful book which has rightly propelled Locke into authorial superstardom.

It is a classic American Western with the lone lawman, Darren Mathews, fighting a powerful criminal gang. Mathews is a big man with a .45 on his hip and a 5 tipped star badge upon his chest riding into Lark, Texas in his Texas sized truck. Among contemporary Western American fictional lawmen I thought of Sheriff Walt Longmire from the series by Craig Johnson.

That the lawman is African American and the gang is the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas brings the old West into the 21st Century. Too often I find mysteries with a police officer acting on their own not credible but Locke has created a believable plot.

Making Mathews a Texas Ranger cements the iconic Western theme.

His family has deep roots in East Texas. They are a part of the black establishment of the region with a family home still at the center of their lives no matter where they work.

Continuing another Western tradition Mathews has a lovely wife back in Houston who, weary of worrying about her husband riding into danger, has demanded he leave the Rangers or she will leave the marriage.

Mathews thinks of resigning from the Rangers and returning to law school.

Yet he cannot resist the lure of solving a double murder in Lark. Michael Wright, a black man with roots in Texas, but now resident in Chicago, is found dead in a bayou outside Geneva Sweet’s Sweets, a country cafe. He has been brutally beaten. Two days Missy Dale, a young white woman, is found dead in the same bayou behind the same café.

The story veers from the simple blacks and whites of Western lore into the complexity of racial relationships in the 21st Century of rural Texas.

The black residents know the local white sheriff, in a different American tradition, is looking to arrest one of them for the murder. Little effort will be made to investigate Michael’s death.

Mathews, a man of stubborn integrity, will not abide an investigation looking only for a black killer as resolution.

With the authority given him by his status as a Ranger he probes more deeply into the lives of white folk and black folk. What does not fit evil Southern tradition of exacting vengeance on black woman when a white woman is attacked is that the black man was killed before the white woman.

Locke shows the discomfort the white residents have with a black Ranger but equally the respect they have for his badge. The world of race relations is being turned upside down.

I have not even discussed the remarkable characters who fill the book. Just one will suffice to illustrate the superb characterization.

Geneva, almost 70 years old, grieves her husband Joe, murdered 6 years ago. The book opens with her visiting his grave:

Geneva Sweet ran an orange extension cord past Mayva Greenwood, Beloved Wife and Mother, May She Rest with Her Heavenly Father. Late morning sunlight pinpricked through the trees, dotting a constellation of lights on the blanket of pine needles as Geneva’s feet as she snaked the cord between Mayva’s sister and her husband, Leland, Father and Brother in Christ. She gave the cord a good tug, making her way up the modest hill, careful not to step on the graves themselves, only the well-worn grooves between the headstones, which were spaced at haphazard and odd angles, like the teeth of a pauper.

 

Locke has created a Western lawman for this century in Mathews. I hope Bluebird, Bluebird is the first in a series. I want to read more of his adventures.

A Great Book Recommendation

This recommendation comes from Margot Kinberg, who blogs at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist…

The late and sorely-missed Maxine Clarke was a real friend to crime fiction and to crime fiction readers and writers. As a way of remembering her, and of building a collection of great book recommendations, Bill Selnes at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan had an excellent idea. A group of book bloggers would contribute reviews of fine crime novels that they would recommend to Maxine. This is my contribution.

Caroline Overington’s Sisters of Mercy

This novel begins as New South Wales journalist Jack ‘Tap’ Fawcett gets a new assignment. He’s to cover the story of Agnes Moore, a visitor from England, who disappeared during a severe storm. Her daughter, Ruby, travels to Australia to make an appeal for any information, and Fawcett’s there to cover that appeal. At first, he doesn’t pay much close attention, although he does his job professionally. But his interest is piqued when he learns the reason that the missing woman came to New South Wales.

It seems that Agnes came to Australia to meet her sister for the very first time. That’s an unusual story, and it’s got a solid human-interest ‘hook.’ So, Fawcett decides to follow it up. Soon after he starts to write about the case, he begins to receive letters from Agnes’ sister, Sally Narelle ‘Snow’ Delaney.

Snow’s in prison for a crime that becomes clear as the story goes on. But she’s been following the case, and decides to put Fawcett right about a lot of details he’s gotten wrong. Thus begins a series of letters between the two; and through those letters, we learn about both Snow and Agnes’ history.

The two sisters were born several years apart, and have led starkly different lives. Agnes was born in the UK during World War II, and ended up in an orphanage. After the war, she moved to Australia and was placed in care there. Later, she returned to the UK. Fawcett does some digging and learns why Agnes was in care, and how she lost touch with her parents.

He also learns that they moved to Australia, where they had Snow. As Snow’s letters continue, we learn about her life. As she tells the story, she was raised by a troubled mother and a father who couldn’t cope. As soon as she could, she left. Then, she trained as a nurse, and some of her letters tell the story of that experience.

Her attempt to work with severely mentally troubled patients didn’t go very well, and Snow puts that down to the concept that these people should be moved out into the community as much as possible. She believes that this plan was bound to fail. Still, she continued in nursing, met her partner, Mark, and moved to Sydney.

There, she and Mark opened Delaney House, a foster home for severely disabled children. By this time, Mark had developed a gambling problem, so it mostly fell to Snow to support the family. With this as the background, we slowly learn what happened to Snow, and how she ended up in prison. We also learn what really happened to Agnes.

There are several things I think Maxine would have really liked about this story. For one thing, it addresses some difficult and controversial issues about the social care system. Many of the questions the novel raises don’t have easy answers, and I think Maxine would have appreciated that Overington doesn’t offer pat solutions. She always liked books that discuss complex issues in ways that do justice to that complexity. Maxine would probably also have appreciated that Overington ‘did the homework’ for this story. She enjoyed books that have a sense of authenticity; she liked to keep her disbelief close by.

Another aspect of the book that Maxine would probably have liked is the slow reveal of the truth. Little by little, we get to know the main characters and their motivations, and we learn that all may not be as it seems. Those layers of character add depth to the story, and I think Maxine would have been glad that Overington didn’t create ‘cardboard’ characters. She preferred more human characters, with all of the accompanying ‘messiness.’ Some of the characters are not at all sympathetic, but that never put Maxine off if the characters were interesting and complex. We may not end up liking Snow, for instance, but it’s hard to deny some of the points that she makes. And we get some interesting insight into why she does the things she does.

Maxine also liked books with a solid sense of place and atmosphere. Sisters of Mercy is clearly set in New South Wales. Both in terms of geography and in terms of culture and even some language use, Overington makes it clear that this is an Australian story.

The tension in the novel is as much psychological as it is anything else. That’s especially apparent as we learn that some characters might not be what they seem at first. Snow, for instance, tells her story in what seems a straightforward way. But how reliable a narrator is she? I think Maxine would have liked that focus on the psychological, rather than the gory details of a crime. Some parts of the novel are very difficult to read, even harrowing. But there isn’t gratuitous violence, and I think Maxine would have been glad of that. She was never much of a one for a high ‘body count’ or a lot of blood.

Sisters of Mercy is the story of two very different sisters, and two very different lives. It takes a hard, sometimes painful, look at some difficult issues, and features narrators who are complex and layered. And it takes place in a distinctly Australian setting. I think Maxine would have liked those elements; I only wish she could have read this.

 

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.

 

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.