What I'm Reading Now: 12 August 27

Kill you twice-- Chelsea Cain
Down the darkest road-- Tami Hoag
The gallows bird-- Camilla Lackberg
English fairy tales-- Joseph Jacobs

Kill you twice: I find myself wondering how long Chelsea Cain can spin out the entanglement between Gretchen Lowell, the serial killer, and Archie Sheridan, her victim/arresting officer, especially since Archie arrested her at the end of the first book. Kill you twice demonstrates that Cain can continue this story for some time without diminishing the suspense or the believability. Now, there's another serial killer out there, and Gretchen claims not only that she knows who he is, but that he is responsible for the child murders that she is accused of. Archie can't let his only lead evaporate, but that may be only a coverup for the strange and twisted connections between Gretchen and Archie. Add in a reporter who has a fixation on Archie, and a mysterious new neighbor, plus a few plot bombshells, and there's plenty of material for another book or six. I say: bring 'em on.

Down the darkest road: Tami Hoag returns to Oak Knoll with Down the darkest road. Lauren Lawton is hiding in the small college town, hoping to keep her younger daughter from being abducted by the same man who Lauren believes is responsible for the disappearance of her older daughter.  Lauren slides deeper into fear as it becomes clear that Roland Ballancoa is also in Oak Knoll and that someone has a definite interest in Lauren and her daughter. Officer Tony Mendez takes on Lauren's cause, to try to find something that links Ballancoa to a crime so he can be taken off the streets. I found the story interesting, although it seemed to me that Hoag, who is deliberately setting the Oak Knoll stories in the 1980's and 90s, is a little too aware that she is writing in the past, and has her characters indulge in technological foreshadowing. It's a minor quibble, though, and although I've liked other of her books more than this, it was still a decent way to spend a couple of hours.

The gallows bird: A small Swedish town is about to host a reality TV show. The locals are not necessarily appreciative, especially the police force, who have to deal with public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. When one of the contestants is murdered, public pressure nudges Detective Patrick Hedstrom and his colleagues to focus all their efforts there, all but forgetting about an apparent drunk-driving fatality with just a few anomalies... This was the first mystery I'd read by Lackberg, and it was quite impressive. She juggles multiple characters, managing to make most of them quite real and nuanced, and brings several storylines into play, each at the appropriate moment. Although I had my suspicions about a few characters and motivations, the ending was still surprising. Definitely recommended; in fact, I've already requested the first in this series.

English fairy tales: And now for something completely different... I've been looking around for a plot for this year's National Novel-Writing Month, and I thought perhaps that I could use a fairy tale as a jumping-off point, as I did in 2006 with Waltz for a soldier. I found a collection of English Fairy Tales, collected by Joseph Jacobs, at the library book sale this year, and finally took the time to browse through it. There are some poems and cumulative stories (like The house that Jack built), and an assortment of stories. There are variations on Cinderella (Catskin and Rushen Coatie), and there are all kinds of giant-killing stories. Jacob's style is interesting, but it's really not a book for reading straight through; it's more of a browsing book. Still, I enjoyed it, and I may have found a plot or two I can use.  

What I'm Reading Now: 12 August 20

Brat Farrar-- Josephine Tey
Snow blind-- PJ Tracy
The fairy godmother-- Mercedes Lackey (fantasy)
Judgment call-- JA Jance
Gone girl-- Gillian Flynn
Death in a white tie-- Ngaio Marsh

Brat Farrar: Simon Ashby is about to inherit Lachetts, the family estate that has been in trust for him since his parents' death, and his older twin's suicide a few months later. Days before his birthday, a man arrives claiming that Patrick never committed suicide, he merely ran away. He knows, because he is Patrick. The family slowly accepts this man, although they prefer to call him Brat, the name he had used as an alias. Brat knows himself to be an impostor, but he loves horses, and he comes to love the family... all except Simon, who on the surface is welcoming, but occasionally shows signs of deeper undercurrents. I enjoy Brat Farrar every time I read it, and the ending is quite satisfying. Definitely recommended.

Snow blind: Snow is nothing unusual in Minnesota... except this time, when it won't stop snowing. At first, the snow is welcome, especially for a pair of cross-country skiers and for the children's snowman-building contest. But when one of the snowmen is found sporting expensive cross-country skis and has unnervingly human hands. Across the state, a rookie sheriff discovers another eerie snowman, and the steadily falling snow makes travel dangerous and hampers everyone's investigation. The computer firm (and crime-solving consultants) Monkeewrench step in to help both departments catch a serial killer... if these murders are in fact the work of one killer. Again, PJ Tracy puts together a plot that's both unexpected and believable, and the small details of character and setting are perfectly placed. This is another must-read.

The fairy godmother: As you may have gathered, I'm partial to fairy tale retellings. Mercedes Lackey's series, The Five Hundred Kingdoms, is all about the fairy tales; about kingdoms where Tradition is an active magical force that pushes people into following fairy tale archetypes when their situations indicate it. Elena is one such person - she would be a perfect Cinderella, except that the only prince is only half her age. She is rescued by the fairy godmother of the kingdom, and becomes a fairy godmother herself, discovering how Tradition can bless or doom a person, and how a fairy godmother can use and subvert it to save an individual or a kingdom. Lackey's basic idea is quite intriguing, and she makes good use of various tales to support her main story. She does her own subverting of fairy tales to come up with an ending for Elena that is happy without being, well, Traditional. It was enjoyable, and I expect I'll be reading others in the series.

Judgment call: Joanna Brady was not prepared for her teenaged daughter to call her and report finding a dead body. She was also not prepared to find the balance between being a mother and being the sheriff, especially when a crime scene photo is leaked on Facebook-- a picture only Jenny could have taken. Joanna follows the Facebook lead and discovers a shocking video of the victim that suggests the killer could be a student at Jenny's high school. The plot follows a lot of twists before the killer is discovered, and there are some interesting characters along the way. As always, this entry in the Brady series is a good read, with plenty of personal as well as professional challenges for Sheriff Brady to meet and deal with.

Gone girl: I don't really know how to classify this book. On the surface, it's a mystery: man comes home and finds his wife missing on their fifth wedding anniversary. Man comes under suspicion, and can't seem to clear himself - in fact, he keeps re-incriminating himself. Told in alternating chapters, first from Nick's point of view, then in Amy's diary entries, the story as it's presented keeps you wondering: guilty? innocent? not quite either? The mystery aspect becomes more of a gloss on top of the real story, which is the anatomy of a relationship. As the story progresses, your sympathies flit back and forth, wondering which of the two you dislike more, and the ending... I'm sorry. Words fail. The ending feels both inevitable and the last thing you would have expected. Gone girl was very good indeed - I couldn't put it down for more than fifteen minutes before needing to go back to it, needing to find out what happened next. Highly recommended

Death in a white tie: Lord Robert Gospell was just helping out the police a little, observing the comings and goings of the London Season, trying to help track down a blackmailer. Someone caught him on the phone to Scotland Yard, and Lord Robert was found dead in a taxi that morning. Detective-Inspector Alleyn had little enough to go on: two cigarette cases, a missing letter, and a secret drawer. Alleyn is also very much in love with a young woman who passes through the scene from time to time, which causes some distraction, but also gives him a few minutes' break from the case. I wouldn't say this is one of Marsh's best, but it's certainly worth reading, and has less of a period-piece feel than some of  her others.

What I'm Reading Now: 12 August 13

This last week has been a bit hectic, with pet projects littering my personal landscape. So, just the one book this week...

Daughter of Time-- Josephine Tey

Inspector Allen Grant is stuck in bed after an injury sustained in the line of duty, and he is beyond bored. A good friend who knows his interest in faces brings him an assortment of portraits, each of a player (villain or victim) in a historical unsolved murder. Grant's attention is captured by a face he would never have suspected of belonging to a murderer: that of Richard III, famously hunchbacked murderer of two of his nephews.  With the help of a young American, Grant undertakes to find out if Richard was indeed the killer, and the final fate of the two boys. It was a fascinating read, even after having read it a few times previously; there's no life-threatening situation here, but Tey makes you care about the long-ago murders, as well as the need to let the truth be known in face of historical inaccuracies. Recommended-- and once you've finished Daughter of Time, I recommend putting Brat Farrar, The Franchise Affair, Miss Pym Disposes, and The man in the queue  on your reading list.

What I'm Reading Now: 12 August 06

Dead run-- P.J. Tracy
Beautiful sacrifice-- Elizabeth Lowell
Let the devil sleep-- John Verdon

Two weeks ago on Wednesday, I ended up having some time to spend in the Millenium Library in Winnipeg. I will save the rant about the botch they made when they updated Centennial to Millenium, as I find I hate it infinitesimally less every time I visit there. However, with said time on my hands, I browsed the mystery section, taking notes of interesting names and authors whose latest book I needed to request. Then I found PJ Tracy. I'd read two of hers before (Monkeewrench and Live Bait), and here were some more. I abandoned all browsing and began reading Dead Run immediately. Sadly, I only read about four chapters before I ran out of time, and I didn't get my hands on another copy for over a week. Once I did, though, I read like the hounds of Baskerville were on my heels... Monkeewrench is an odd group of software developers-turned-amateur-crime-fighters. They all have murky pasts that are going to stay past. Grace and Annie, two of the crew, plus their friend Sharon, are headed to Green Bay to consult with the local PD, when they vanish. All enquiries, official and unoffical, go nowhere. Meanwhile, three bodies cut apart by machine-gun fire are pulled out of a quarry, and reservists are blocking access to the entire county where Grace, Annie, and Sharon were last seen. Co-incidence? What do you think? PJ Tracy is an excellent thriller/mystery writer, and her characters are fascinating. I would recommend starting with Monkeewrench and reading your way through the series. (I myself have already ordered the next on the list, doing so roughly five minutes after finishing Dead Run.)

If you believe the story about the Maya calendar predicting the end of the world in 2012, you have something in common with a lot of Lina Taylor's students. In Beautiful Sacrifice, Lina is an archaelogist with a specialty in Maya artifacts, and more than a little Maya blood in her veins. She's beginning to get tired of end-of-the-world queries in her college lectures, and the question Hunter Johnson brings to her office one day is both fascinating and deadly: what do these pictured Maya artifacts have to do with the death of several men? Lina and Hunter join forces to find the artifacts, and Lina's structured world shatters into chaos. 2012 may just be the end of the world... for her. I enjoyed the story, although it took me a while to get into it. Lowell does a good job of a relatively nuanced picture of the world of archaeologists and collectors, as well as the relationship between the rich landowners and the poor peons (a topic about which I, admittedly, don't know very much). Warning: the pages drip with sexual tension, which I found a little annoying after a while, and there are a couple of extensive sex scenes.

Dave Guerney is trying to recover from being shot, and failing. He's in pain, depressed, hostile, and over-reacting. An old acquaintance asks him to act as a consultant for her daughter Kim, who is doing a story on "the Orphans of Murder," life for the family of murder victims. In Let the Devil Sleep, Dave reluctantly agrees to a single day's consulting for Kim, which leads to another and another as he gets entangled in both  Kim's project and Kim's ex-boyfriend/current stalker. The more he looks at the case, the more he believes the official story is wrong, and the more certain he is that someone wants to be very sure that the official story is never questioned... no matter who else dies, especially Dave. Verdon is in great form in Let the Devil Sleep. Dave is thoroughly believable as an ex-cop trying to find out who can be trusted, and if he can trust himself, and the final confrontation has an explosive ending. My only quibble is that I came to the same conclusion Dave came to, but a good hundred pages before he or anyone else did. I'll grant you that I read a lot of mysteries, but I would have thought that if you were to reject the possibility that victim selection was random (or based on a single factor), you wouldn't just go around saying "coincidence" a lot. (Not exactly the case here, but I don't want to give anything away.) Still, Let the devil sleep gets a strong recommendation from me.

I would have read more, but some of my reading time this week was on the beach, and I have an ironclad rule that I do not take hardcover library books to the beach. There's too much possibility of getting sand inside the protective cover, and when that happens, the book has to be taken out of circulation, the sleeve stripped off, and a new sleeve put on. So, as all of my must-reads were hardcover library books, I re-read Sunshine instead. (What can I say? I have my favorites.)