Mystery Ahead 16 May 2021 😎 You asked | Burnt to a Crisp | SEPTEMBER SOCIETY

Mystery Ahead 16 May 2021 😎 You asked | Burnt to a Crisp | SEPTEMBER SOCIETY

Welcome to the website edition of the Mystery Ahead newsletter, with fresh #booknews, thrilling #excerpts, and #reviews of must-read mysteries.

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#booknews

1.  You asked for it

Q:  Where can I find back issues of Mystery Ahead?

A:  I get this question quite a bit. Until now, there’s been no good answer except to hope you save emails.

Problem solved! You can now find “lite” editions of the newsletter on my website: https://carmenamato.net/shop-talk. Click on #newsletter at the top of the page.

All 2021 back editions of Mystery Ahead are available.

NOTE: The “lite” versions include excerpts and reviews but other original images, content or links may be missing or expired.

Going forward, lite website versions of Mystery Ahead will be posted the week after the regular email edition hits your inbox.

 

2. Thriller Sale

To celebrate its anniversary, THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY is on sale for $2.99 for Kindle. Longlisted for the 2020 Millennium Book Award, it’s a political thriller set against the backdrop of Mexico’s presidential elections, with a complicating Cinderella-style relationship.

“A rivetingly dramatic tale of politics and corruption, and a man and a woman from opposite ends of the social spectrum who fall in love.” – Literary Fiction Review

The Hidden Light of Mexico City

#excerpt

Acapulco Black Book is an unpublished Detective Emilia Cruz short story.

Part 6

Julio Lira Valdez had his very own file in a road accident database for the state of Guerrero.

According to the file, Julio died in a car fire two months ago. The database featured a blurry digital image of a charred wreck and the GPS coordinates of where the car was found in a remote area north of the Maxitunel.

Burnt to a crisp, his body was identified in the morgue by Raquel Lopez Amador, age 22, also with an address in Colonia Paraiso. She claimed to be his girlfriend.

Raquel contacted Highway Patrol when Julio didn’t come home, giving details about the car and his intended destination that led to the discovery of the burned vehicle. According to the girlfriend, he’d been having lots of engine trouble, which obviously explained the fire.

But not why he’d stay in a burning car, Emilia thought as she kept scrolling.

With a positive identification of the body and the car’s ownership established, Julio’s death was ruled a road accident. No further action was required. The fact that there were no plates on the car was attributed to theft instead of gangs known to alter and reuse them. Even scorched placas were valuable on the black market.

That was the end of Julio Lira Valdez, as far as the official record was concerned.

Emilia stretched her arms over her head and rolled her head, hearing a crunchy sound from her neck in the process. The squadroom was empty. Everyone else had left for the day.

Her notes weren’t much, just a couple of addresses and the girlfriend’s name. She’d busted cases with less.

But this wasn’t going to be that kind of case.

Over the next two hours, bolstered by a fresh pot of coffee, Emilia wrote down the name of every cop mentioned in any report connected to Tito Sandino Hernandez or Julio Lira Valdez or the B-90 gang.

The list was almost as long as the list of names in the black notebook.

 

#review

Book review The September Society

THE SEPTEMBER SOCIETY by Charles Finch

THE SEPTEMBER SOCIETY is one of the early novels in the Charles Lenox series, which is my new obsession. Imagine Victorian London through the eyes of an upper-class private detective, with great descriptions, 3-D characters and details out of a Dickens novel. As an added delight, there are sly references to iconic British authors like P.G. Wodehouse.

In short, the Charles Lenox series is absorbing, authentic, and quite sophisticated.

Lenox is a bachelor in love with his London neighbor, Lady Jane, a wealthy widow whom he’s known since childhood. Asking for her hand in marriage requires courage, although Lenox is accustomed to not only solving gruesome crimes but the rigors of London society and the opinions of those who believe that an Oxford-educated man should do something more impressive with his talents. Be in Parliament, perhaps, like his older brother and many friends.

Independently wealthy, Lenox persists in his role as amateur detective. In THE SEPTEMBER SOCIETY, a woman needs his help to find her son, missing from college at Oxford. Pleased to revisit old haunts, Lenox finds a connection to a London club called the September Society.

Only a handful of men belong to the club, which is exclusive to the point of anonymity. All members have links to the Army and to an obscure battle that provides a lesson into British colonial history.

The descriptions of both London and Oxford are brilliant. The architecture, traditions, and landscape of Oxford is particularly well done as we explore the alleys and greens. Weathered stone and damp grass are underfoot, while wavy windows and spires rise above. Student life ranges between tutors, taverns, and games.

The plot races along as Lenox chases clues. The climax is a very satisfying surprise.

At this point, I’ve read 7 out of 14 Charles Lenox mysteries, which are best read in order. Lenox’s evolving life—marriage, children, a stint in Parliament, his own detective agency—features prominently. The books are fairly long and immersive, reminding me in style and tone of Anne Perry’s early William Monk historical mysteries.

I’m off to find the next in the series! Get THE SEPTEMBER SOCIETY on Amazon.

 

Book Review: SNOW by John Banville

Book Review: SNOW by John Banville

SNOW by John Banville got a hearty endorsement from several hard-core mystery reader friends and it lived up to expectations in every way except one.

It’s a freezing, snowy winter in 1957. Ireland is still a new country. Detective St. John (pronounced Sinjun as he takes pains to note) Strafford is sent to the country home of the Osborne family to investigate the murder of a visiting family friend, a Catholic priest.

It’s quickly apparent that this is a locked room mystery. Someone in this highly dysfunctional family must be the villain.

Related post: Book review of IN THE WOODS by Tana French

Ireland’s troubled religious history and enduring divisions are on full display. The family is Protestant, as is Strafford, but the priest was an avid horseman and hunter who was great pals with the dad, a retired military man. Of course, the all powerful archbishop in Dublin wants everything hushed up. Strafford is caught between the powerful Catholic Church, a long-suffering boss in the police department, and his own notions of justice.

Everyone in the family qualifies as a suspect. The lady of the house is an addict who seduces Strafford, the son and daughter dislike their parents and ancestral home, and the father might have murdered his first wife. No one seems terribly upset about the dead priest in the library.

The author’s sense of time and place is excellent. The writing is superb, with descriptions that lure us into this cold, murky winter investigation.

Related post: 2020’s Top reviews from the Mystery Ahead newsletter

Strafford makes keen observations about the family as they drift through the investigation like actors on a stage fulfilling typecast roles. The author cleverly makes Strafford an actor on the stage, too. He’s the second lead who creates ripples that are resolved in Act III but isn’t enough of a presence that we remember the actor’s name after the curtain falls. Strafford is still finding his way, still unsure of what he wants out of life, and that makes him an enigmatic officer of the law.

Endeavor tv series

SNOW has the same vibe as the tv series Endeavour, about the young Inspector Morse. If SNOW is ever made into a movie, actor Shaun Evans would make the perfect St. John Strafford. More about the tv series on imdb:  https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2701582/

Given the quality of writing, my one complaint about SNOW was that the motive was sadly unimaginative. Basically, we’ve seen this before. Or maybe I have just read too many mystery novels.

Find SNOW on Amazon: https://geni.us/sno101

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Best of 2020: Top 10 Book Reviews from the Mystery Ahead Newsletter

Best of 2020

Yes, 2020 had a silver lining. We all stayed home and read more.

Every other Sunday, I fed the collective appetite of fellow mystery lovers with the Mystery Ahead newsletter. Readers enjoy sneak peaks of what I’m writing now AND reviews of books I love and think you will, too.

Based on your feedback, here are the Top 10 Best of 2020 mystery recommendations from the Mystery Ahead newsletter. How many have you read?

P.S. Not a subscriber? Join a few thousand other mystery lovers. Subscribe here.

Every other Sunday, Mystery Ahead newsletter subscribers enjoy exclusive excerpts of coming books, thought-provoking conversation starters, and recommendations for what to read now.

Assassin's Vow free book

1. ASSASSIN’S VOW by David Bruns and J.T. Olson

Authors Bruns and Olson bill themselves as the Two Navy Guys and are rapidly building a following among fans of military and espionage thrillers.

In addition to their WMD Thrillers series (WEAPONS OF MASS DECEPTION, JIHADI APPRENTICE, RULES OF ENGAGEMENT, THE PANDORA DECEPTION) they have a series of outstanding standalone novellas that function as prequels and “in-between” tales.

Warning: The pace is fast, the action is blazing hot, and the research is meticulous.

The international fight against terrorism is central to the books and novellas. The writing is on par with Tom Clancy and other top-notch writers of the genre.

The reader walks shoulder to shoulder with military and intelligence officers from multiple countries. When it comes to the terrorists, these authors have done their research and give us fully formed characters, not caricatures.

ASSASSIN’S VOW is a free prequel novella in their Standalone Suspenseful Short Reads series. Rachel Jaeger is an Israeli intelligence agent assigned to “wet” work, i.e. assassinations. She’s married to her unit commander, Levi. Other than Levi, she has little to call her own. Few possessions and no family beyond her Mossad colleagues.

When Levi is captured on a mission to kill a notorious international terrorist, Rachael nearly loses her mind. Only the vow to get her husband back or kill his killer will save her.

The gut-wrenching drama of Rachael’s life is brilliantly laid out. I was amazed at how so much action was contained in 117 pages. The end sets us up for THE PANDORA DECEPTION in which Rachael is loaned to the US for a mission with a US Navy officer who appears in earlier books.

If you love national security thrillers, ASSASSIN’S VOW is a great way to meet a new author duo, both of whom are US military veterans, as well as a fascinating set of characters and settings torn from the news.

Get ASSASSIN’s VOW on Amazon >>> https://geni.us/vow21

 

The Saint book review

2. THE SAINT series by Leslie Charteris

We have the proverbial 1000 cable channels at home. One of them is the FE TV network, showing mostly black and white television shows from the 1960’s and 70’s. That’s where I discovered the British show The Saint, starring Roger Moore after he was Ivanhoe but before he was 007.

The Saint is a study in mid-century modern style. Think sack suits, bar carts,  languid cigarette smoking, and a Volvo P1800 sports car. At the beginning of each episode, someone says his name, prompting a halo to appear momentarily above Templar’s head. This is a reference to the saint caricature used in credits, book covers, etc.

As Simon Templar, whose initials created his nickname, Moore is a modern day Robin Hood/pirate/soldier of fortune/reformed jewel thief.

It’s a given that he plays both sides of the law, is known (and feared) by police everywhere, and is one of the most famous and instantly recognizable people in the world.

The series is based on an enormous body of SAINT stories by Leslie Charteris, many of which were converted into screenplays for the series. The entire collection, written over the course of 30+ years beginning in the 1930’s, has been re-released for Kindle Unlimited. Each volume contains 3-7 stories. Each story is a standalone.

The tales are the epitome of retro phrasing and international flair. Templar’s dialogue is peppered with flippant lines oozing confidence and movie star glam. The descriptions reflect both the author’s and the character’s globe-trotting lifestyle.

A dashing blue-eyed modern buccaneer who speaks half a dozen languages, Templar is at home anywhere, be it mining for gold in Mexico or playing baccarat in Monaco. His wealth, it is implied, comes from sleight of hand but not outright theft. He outwits everybody. Templar is never left holding the bag, unless it’s full of uncut diamonds no one is looking for.

Charteris was likely influenced by the mischievous gentleman thief of E.W. Hornung’s famous Raffles stories. For a modern comparison, think of Ian Fleming’s more famous James Bond series, which came later. Templar’s villains are generally thieves and cheaters, however, rather than those intent on world domination.

Like Bond, there’s always a pretty girl for Templar to romance. More than most of his contemporaries, however, Charteris was an equal opportunity villain creator. Many of the villains are female, ranging from husband killers to scam artists to an extortionist targeting beggars in Rome.

BTW: my husband has decided he’s the Southern variety of Simon Templar . . . The Ain’t.

LOL

There are 49 SAINT volumes on Kindle Unlimited, with gorgeous retro covers, enough to keep you reading until New Year’s Eve!

Find THE SAINT collection on Amazon >>> https://geni.us/saint

 

Merciful series book review

3. A MERCIFUL DEATH by Kendra Elliott

A MERCIFUL DEATH kicks off the 6-book MERCIFUL series featuring FBI Special Agent Mercy Kilpatrick. Start with the first and read in order as fast as you can. You’ll find yourself in the Oregon woods, looking for trouble before it finds you.

Mercy Kilpatrick grew up in the small town of Eagle’s Nest in central Oregon. Her father led a community of preppers, whose preparations for disaster were a way of life. Stockpiling wood, canning food, and other preparations in anticipation of the  breakdown of civil society, disruptions in electricity, competition for food supplies, etc.

But when she was 18, Mercy was cast out.

Fifteen years later, she is an FBI agent in Portland and returns to Eagle’s Nest to investigate the murders of several preppers. The tautly-spun story mixes the investigation with her encounters with family members, some of whom want nothing to do with her and remain deeply suspicious of the government. To crank up the tension even further, Eagle’s Nest stirs memories of an assault on Mercy and her blind sister Rose, which led to Mercy’s estrangement from her family.

As the current timeline unfolds, Mercy meets the new police chief of Eagle’s Nest, Truman Daly. He’s got his own demons to contend with, notably the murder of his partner when he was a cop in San Diego. But Truman is strong and decent and a match for Mercy, a tough loner who can’t shake her prepper background, as evidenced by the secret cabin she keeps stocked with supplies.

A MERCIFUL DEATH leads right into the next book in a page-turning progression of crimes and relationships. There is significant character development throughout, mostly in terms of the love affair between Mercy and Truman, as well as Mercy’s efforts to reunite with her parents and siblings.

The prepper lifestyle remains a theme throughout the series, along with the phenomenon of rural militias with cult-like rules and “sovereign citizens” who believe that they are not subject to US laws. The vastness of rural Oregon is on display, both in terms of the landscape and the people who live off the grid in its wilderness.

The style is crisp, clean, and fast-moving, with most chapters from Mercy’s or Truman’s point of view. There’s plenty of page-turning action but no FBI legalese or internal politics. Some of the books include forensic details, but for the most part, the mystery in each book is solved by connecting the dots of human relationships and personal motives.

Characters are believable and relatable. Most secondary characters appear in all books. Plots are complex, but not needlessly so, and endings are very satisfying.

In short, I loved this series. Highly recommended.

Find A MERCIFUL DEATH on Amazon >>> https://geni.us/merc1

 

Macbeth series book review

4. DEATH OF A LIAR by M.C. Beaton

I can’t say that DEATH OF A LIAR is the best book in the long running Hamish Macbeth mystery series set in northern Scotland, because they are all equally cleverly written and highly entertaining.

Hamish is a tall red-headed police sergeant. A bachelor, but only because every love affair goes awry for one justifiable reason or another. He’s outfitted the police station in Lochdubh to suit his needs: pets, chickens, and sheep. He barely tolerates the various constables assigned to work for him and doesn’t hide his disdain for power-hungry superiors.

Hamish is imminently likeable.

DEATH OF A LIAR is #30 in the series but it doesn’t matter. Hamish’s world is easy to slip into and you can start the series at any point. The backstory of his failed romances and current constable is always presented swiftly and simply so you never feel you are missing out.

Hamish and constable Dick Fraser–who spends more time in the kitchen than on his job—are called to the home of a woman who says she was attacked by a knife-wielding assailant, but is sketchy on details, timing, and evidence. A medical exam not only refutes her claim but the local doctor reveals she is known for lying about serious issues to get attention.

At the same time, a quarrelsome newcomer to the village turns up dead and buried in her own garden. The liar is killed, too. The entire Scottish police force descends on little Lochdubh, along with Hamish’s ex-girlfriend, a hotshot tv journalist. Clues to lead to Anka, a beautiful Polish baker. Both Hamish and Dick fall under her spell . . . but there’s a murderer to catch first, with the help of a wise seer, yet another old girlfriend, and Hamish’s detective buddy who needs to drink less and think more.

DEATH OF A LIAR a great romp through the misty Highlands with Hamish and the gang. Come for LIAR, and stay for the other 34 novels in the series.

Find it on Amazon >>> https://geni.us/beaton

BONUS: A Hamish Macbeth TV series? Yes, please. Robert Carlyle stars as Hamish with a dog named Wee Jock.

Find it on Amazon Prime here >>> https://www.amazon.com/Hamish-Macbeth/dp/B07VWS3T7M (US link)

 

Thunderstruck book review

5. THUNDERSTRUCK by Erik Larsen

Non-fiction author Erik Larsen (DEAD WAKE, THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY, THE SPLENDID AND THE VILE, etc.) writes true crime with the sweep, suspense, and vocabulary of the best fiction authors. THUNDERSTRUCK may not be his best known book but it is the incredible saga of a true crime that will leave you as breathless as any bestselling thriller.

The book pits two men against each other in a brilliant match-up aboard the SS Montrose as the ship churns across the Atlantic toward Canada. The captain of the ship is the linchpin. This is where THUNDERSTRUCK begins, hooking the reader with a little-known, but absolutely crucial moment in history.

The first man in this unlikely battle is Guglielmo Marconi, a wealthy and eccentric Italian youth who is obsessed with science and turns his family’s attic into a private laboratory. The socially inadept Marconi will be credited with the invention of the wireless telegraph, aka, radio. He’ll monetize his invention and transform global communications via ambitious experiments, risky marketing, British mentors, and his family connections.

The immediate value of Marconi’s wireless is the ability to communicate with ships at sea. Soon every major vessel has a Marconi cabin and telegraph operators sending and receiving Marconigrams.

Next up is Hawley Crippen, a mild-mannered American medical man who moves to London to peddle patent medicines. His wife Cora, with dreams of becoming an opera singer, spends every penny Crippen makes. In due time, she renames herself Belle Elmore, is a minor failure on the British vaudeville circuit known as varieties, and takes a lover who is more dashing than her husband.  Crippen takes solace in a relationship with his very young secretary, Ethel Le Neve.

The lives of Marconi and Crippen move in parallel, each in their own fascinating way. Marconi is willful, selfish, demanding. Crippen is meek, abused, long-suffering.

When Belle’s friends doubt Crippen’s claim that Belle died in California, Scotland Yard investigates. Crippen and Le Neve drop out of sight. A manhunt ensues with Marconigrams flying through the ether.

Meanwhile, a father and teenaged son board the SS Montrose for an 11-day crossing. The captain identifies them as Crippen and Le Neve in disguise. Scotland Yard’s lead investigator boards a faster ship.

What happens next is stranger than fiction. Thanks to Marconi, the entire world except for the passengers aboard the SS Montrose knows about the nail-biting chase through the Atlantic. Will Scotland Yard catch up to Belle’s murdering husband or will the disguised lovers reach Canada first and disappear into the wilds?

The book is absolutely riveting. Larsen spins out the story like a master storyteller, tantalizing and leading us from one key piece of the puzzle to the next. Highly recommended.

Get it on Amazon >>> https://geni.us/thund

 

Treasure Hunt book review

6. TREASURE HUNT by Andrea Camilleri

Inspector Salvo Montalbano’s corner of Sicily is a mystery lover’s happy place. TREASURE HUNT takes you there.

As you can tell, I’m having an Italian moment here.

As the book opens, an elderly brother and sister, religious recluses for years, shoot into the street from the balcony of their apartment to punish the city of Vigàta for their sins. It’s up to the man in charge, Montalbano, to climb a ladder in full view of news cameras, and subdue the addled snipers.

Their apartment is an unwashed Italian hoarder’s paradise, full of filthy but costly religious antiques, and one ancient and well-loved inflatable sex doll.

Shortly thereafter, the police get a call that a woman’s body is in dumpster. But Montalbano and his team instead discover a second inflatable sex doll, cunningly disfigured to look exactly like the one found the day before.

Montalbano now begins to get cryptic messages, challenging him to a strange scavenger hunt. Helped by a Swedish friend, a local university student, and the cops Montalbano supervises, the hunt ends in a seriously shocking climax that hinges on clues I never suspected.

Strong plot aside, I love the Montalbano series for his wry inner voice. It’s got the cadence and dry humor I associate with my other favorite Italian author, Giovanni Guareschi, author of the fabulous Don Camillo series. (A small village in Italy after WWII: Don Camillo is the parish priest, locked in eternal combat with Peppone, the Communist mayor. Brilliant.)

For example, Montalbano lets us know his opinion of the idiot coroner in a few light words, but they characterize him perfectly. In another bit of ribaldry, his desk sergeant is the king of mispronunciation and malaprops. Montalbano has also perfected bureaucratese as a way of confusing his superiors into leaving him alone.

Then there’s the food . . . and his domineering housekeeper and her criminal relatives.

In short, TREASURE HUNT (number 16 in the long-running series) is a trip to Sicily with an old friend. He knows what he’s doing, most of the time, and makes us laugh the rest of the time. Highly recommended.

Find it on Amazon here.

 

Harriet Steele mystery series review

7. TROUBLE IN NUALA by Harriet Steel

Harriet Steel’s Inspector Shanti de Silva series set in 1930’s Ceylon is an absolute gem. De Silva is the head of a 3-person police force in the smallish city of Nuala. The British are still the colonial power (today Ceylon is the independent nation of Sri Lanka) and he straddles the divide between the local population and his British bosses.

He has flouted both cultures by marrying a British woman, Jane, who came to Ceylon as a governess to a British family. They live in a bungalow called Sunnybank where De Silvio has an extensive garden and Jane devours Agatha Christie novels.

TROUBLE IN NUALA starts with reports that a tea plantation owner has flogged a worker. A lawyer from the capital of Colombo makes a complaint on the worker’s behalf.

But when De Silva investigates, he finds that the worker has disappeared and the plantation owner is an unpleasant man who is up to his ears in debt. Add a dubious business associate, a frazzled wife, and a chatty mynah bird, and the situation is much more complicated than at first glance.

The heat and scents of Ceylon are captured so well, it’s easy to form a mental picture. The pacing is similar to The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency or the Commisario Brunetti series, with introspective moments and dialogue-driven action. De Silva’s social standing with the British adds a subtle layer of tension, even as he mentors younger police officers.

There are 8 books in the series so far, all with “Nuala” in the titles: DARK CLOUDS OVER NUALA, ROUGH TIME IN NUALA, PASSAGE FROM NUALA, OFFSTAGE IN NUALA, etc. Plots are true to time and place. As the series progresses, Hitler’s rise to power and the possible implications for the British Empire create additional questions but each book stands alone.

Highly recommended.

Click here to get TROUBLE IN NUALA on Amazon

 

Dublin Trilogy book review

8. THE MAN WITH ONE OF THOSE FACES by Caimh McDonnell

Author Vee James gifted me this book and a tip of the hat to him. THE MAN WITH ONE OF THOSE FACES launches McDonnell’s Dublin Trilogy about the very funny, yet seriously intriguing misadventures of Paul Mulchrone, Brigit Conroy, and Garda detective Bernard “Bunny” McGarry.

Don’t worry if you have never been to Dublin, because by the end of all of the books, you will be intimate with the city and its people, plus the law enforcement powers and politics of the Garda, the national police agency.

The unique sport of hurling. Shopping on Grafton and Carroll. The restorative powers of Irish whiskey and Guinness beer.

Step up to the bar and drink deeply.

Paul had a rough start in life. He was orphaned at a young age, and his only stability was the hurling club presided over by Bunny McGarry, the larger-than-life cop with his own definition of justice. Now an adult, Paul is trapped by a will awarding him a subsistence stipend as long as he does charity work.

He regularly visits a nursing home to fulfill the requirements but one day a resident mistakes Paul for someone else and tries to kill him before dying of shock. When the dead man is found to be a gangster thought to be long dead, Paul and Brigit, a nurse, are targeted by the gangster’s old enemies. Bunny McGarry, who has a soft spot for Paul from hurling club days, makes things worse.

The mix of white knights and black sheep throws gray shadows on many of the characters in the Dublin Trilogy while relationships develop in smart and clever ways. But the real charm of this series lies with dialogue and descriptions, both of which evoke some real laugh-out-loud moments. There’s a line about anybody who could “cut two holes in a tea cozy thought he was John Dillinger” that still makes me laugh at odd moments.

THE DAY THAT NEVER COMES and LAST ORDERS are the next two books in the trilogy, and should be read in order. ANGELS IN THE MOONLIGHT is a prequel that is nonetheless listed on Amazon as #3 in the 4-volume set. The numbering is just one of the quirks of this well-written, funny, and breathlessly paced series.

Highly recommended.

Get THE MAN WITH ONE OF THOSE FACES on Amazon: http://mybook.to/faces

 

Gorky Park book review

9. GORKY PARK by Martin Cruz Smith

Gorky Park is the first Arkady Reno thriller set in Russia. Published in 1981, years before the first breach in the Berlin Wall, the novel was the first popular fiction set in Communist Moscow. Its portrayal of life in Moscow is authentic and unflinching.

I regard author Martin Cruz Smith as a role model. With the Detective Emilia Cruz series, I aim to take my readers inside Mexico the same way he does with Russia. We both use setting, food, politics, and uniquely cultural plot devices.

In GORKY PARK, three murder victims are found buried in snow near the ice rink in Moscow’s Gorky Park. Their faces and fingertips have been skillfully removed. Renko, the Moscow city police inspector for homicides, is called in. Despite KGB interference, Renko finds clues leading to a wealthy American fur dealer and dissidents from Siberia. A visiting New York cop is part friend, part foe.

The Russian locations, from fight scene on a frozen river to feeding ducks by a country dacha, are masterfully done. Life under Soviet rule is fully exposed: dogma no one believes in, vodka to shut out everyday miseries, informers, indoctrination meetings, permits to live in Moscow. It makes for a hefty book, not for the faint of heart, but an immersive one.

GORKY PARK was followed by RED SQUARE, POLAR STAR, HAVANA BAY, WOLVES EAT DOGS, etc. All are vibrant journeys into Soviet Russia with brilliant characters, descriptions that lure you into a shockingly unfamiliar world, and vignettes of the illogical logic of the Communist system.

Now 39 years later, the latest Renko book, THE SIBERIAN DILEMMA just hit bookstores. Ageless Arkady still holds the rank of inspector and still has trouble with the woman in his life as he navigates post-Soviet Russia under Putin. To be honest, this novel, does not even approach the high bar of the early Renko books listed above. It’s a lite beer when you expected a Guinness.

Read GORKY PARK on Amazon. Drink deeply.

 

Rebecca book and movie review

10. REBECCA x 3

These three thrillers all started at Manderley . . .

1. REBECCA by Daphne Du Maurier

Du Maurier published her tour de force novel REBECCA in 1938. The book was one of the first to give us the unreliable narrator and has been the basis for a host of radio, television, and movie adaptations.

The narrator, an orphaned young woman working as a lady’s companion, meets a handsome and wealthy widower in Monaco. Despite their disparity in social class, he sweeps her off her feet and they marry.

He brings her home to Manderley, his baronial family estate. There she pales in comparison with his seemingly perfect late wife Rebecca, a point the sinister housekeeper Mrs. Danvers is at pains to make. When Rebecca’s body is found on her shipwrecked boat, now months after her death, dark deeds could destroy them all.

REBECCA has serious staying power. It’s edgy, gripping, visual, and a Gothic thriller classic. The setting is England in the 1930’s, but the creepy relationships and murderous secrets are timeless.

Get it on Amazon >>> https://geni.us/Rebecca

 

2. THE KEY TO REBECCA by Ken Follett

When I first read this World War II classic, I believed it was the best thriller ever written. The page-turning format inspired the pace of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY.

The novel REBECCA is used as a code book by a German spy who infiltrates British-held Cairo during the war, in an effort to aid General Rommel’s army in north Africa. When the spy kills a soldier, the murder comes to the attention of a British intelligence officer.

A cat and mouse game ensues between spy and intel officer through the streets and souks of the war-weary city. Women, thieves, and the Egyptian independence movement complicate the hunt. The characters are riveting, complete, and their vulnerabilities are twisted by the enemy. The way Follett builds to a climax is a masterclass in thriller writing.

No spoilers, but REBECCA gets the last word . . .

Get it on Amazon >>> https://geni.us/FolRe

 

3. Rebecca, the new Netflix movie

Lily James stars as the unnamed narrator who falls in love with the wealthy and handsome owner of Manderley, played by Armie Hammer. She does a remarkable job of being the waif working as a lady’s companion to a cranky, demanding woman, but an even better job of being the new wife completely out of her depth trying to run a huge Downton Abbey-esque country house already ruled with an iron fist by Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott-Thomas).

It’s a loooong movie, but a faithful adaptation, although the ending is less edgy than in the book. Manderley and the surrounding coastline are gorgeous, with many a panoramic sea shot to underscore the isolation the new wife feels.

Lily James is superb, as is the conniving Scott-Thomas. Armie Hammer is a hunky lunk but cuts a dashing figure in a mustard colored linen suit in his first scene.

Highly recommended for a cold, rainy evening.

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Book Review: THUNDERSTRUCK by Erik Larson

Book Review: THUNDERSTRUCK by Erik Larson

Non-fiction author Erik Larsen (DEAD WAKE, THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY, THE SPLENDID AND THE VILE, etc.) writes true crime with the sweep, suspense, and vocabulary of the best fiction authors. THUNDERSTRUCK may not be his best known book but it is the incredible saga of a true crime that will leave you as breathless as any bestselling thriller.

The book pits two men against each other in a brilliant match-up aboard the SS Montrose as the ship churns across the Atlantic toward Canada. The captain of the ship is the linchpin. This is where THUNDERSTRUCK begins, hooking the reader with a little-known, but absolutely crucial moment in history.

The first man in this unlikely battle is Guglielmo Marconi, a wealthy and eccentric Italian youth who is obsessed with science and turns his family’s attic into a private laboratory. The socially inadept Marconi will be credited with the invention of the wireless telegraph, aka, radio. He’ll monetize his invention and transform global communications via ambitious experiments, risky marketing, British mentors, and his family connections.

Related: Book Review: The Maria Kahlio series 

The immediate value of Marconi’s wireless is the ability to communicate with ships at sea. Soon every major vessel has a Marconi cabin and telegraph operators sending and receiving Marconigrams.

Next up is Hawley Crippen, a mild-mannered American medical man who moves to London to peddle patent medicines. His wife Cora dreams of becoming an opera singer and spends every penny Crippen makes. In due time, she renames herself Belle Elmore, is a minor failure on the British vaudeville circuit known as varieties, and takes a lover who is more dashing than her husband.  Crippen takes solace in a relationship with his very young secretary, Ethel Le Neve.

The lives of Marconi and Crippen move in parallel, each in their own fascinating way. Marconi is willful, selfish, demanding. Crippen is meek, abused, long-suffering.

When Crippen tells Belle’s friends that his wife was called home to California and perished there of pneumonia, they go to Scotland Yard. Crippen and Le Neve drop out of sight. Scotland Yard mounts a manhunt. Marconigrams fly through the ether.

Meanwhile, a father and teenaged son board the SS Montrose for an 11-day crossing. The captain identifies them as Crippen and Le Neve in disguise. Scotland Yard’s lead investigator boards a faster ship.

Related: How to be an Armchair Traveler

What happens next is stranger than fiction. Thanks to Marconi, the entire world except for the passengers aboard the SS Montrose knows about the nail-biting chase through the Atlantic. Will Scotland Yard catch up to Belle’s murdering husband or will the disguised lovers reach Canada first and disappear into the wilds?

The book is absolutely riveting. Larsen spins out the story like a master storyteller, tantalizing and leading us from one key piece of the puzzle to the next. Highly recommended.

Get it on Amazon >>> https://geni.us/thund

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Book Review: GRAY GHOST MURDERS by Keith McCafferty

Book Review: GRAY GHOST MURDERS by Keith McCafferty

I know nothing about fly fishing and have never been to Montana. Nevertheless, the Sean Stranahan mystery series by Keith McCafferty has me hooked. (Sorry, could not resist.) The series has elements of both the Longmire and Mike Bowditch series, but with a gentle...

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Book Review: Dublin Trilogy by Caimh McDonnell

Book Review: Dublin Trilogy by Caimh McDonnell

Author Vee James gifted me this book and a tip of the hat to him. THE MAN WITH ONE OF THOSE FACES is the first book in McDonnell’s Dublin Trilogy about the very funny, yet seriously intriguing misadventures of Paul Mulchrone, Brigit Conroy, and Garda detective Bernard...

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Book review: Denise Mina’s Still Midnight

Book review: Denise Mina’s Still Midnight

STILL MIDNIGHT by Denise Mina is the first book in the Alex Morrow detective series set in Glasgow and it’s a stunner. It’s a superb mix of Ian Rankin’s seedy Scotland from the John Rebus novels, Tana French’s angry female protagonist from THE TRESPASSER, and powerful...

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Book Review: GRAY GHOST MURDERS by Keith McCafferty

Book Review: GRAY GHOST MURDERS by Keith McCafferty

I know nothing about fly fishing and have never been to Montana. Nevertheless, the Sean Stranahan mystery series by Keith McCafferty has me hooked.

(Sorry, could not resist.)

The series has elements of both the Longmire and Mike Bowditch series, but with a gentle charm you don’t see too often in a mystery series. Add top-notch writing and evocative descriptions of the Montana wilderness and it’s an absolute winner.

THE GRAY GHOST MURDERS is the second in the Sean Stranahan series but they are all standalones. I picked this up, frankly, because of the cover. But author McCafferty, an editor at Field and Stream magazine, is an accomplished writer whose characters are so appealing, you can’t help but be drawn into their world of rural Montana and the outdoors, not to mention the art and science of fly fishing.

Rugged landscape and fisherman

This evokes the setting for the book, with the fly fisherman with his net. Photo by Matt Noble via Unsplash

 

Sean is an artist, fishing guide, and sometime sheriff’s deputy in Hyalite County, Montana. He’s also a former detective who worked for a law firm in Boston before he moved to Montana. Not rich, he bunks in his art studio and gets an unexpected windfall when a wealthy group of anglers asks him to find two valuable vintage fishing flies that were stolen from their summer camp.

And thus we learn of the world of rare fishing flies, which are auctioned like rare books.

 

Fishing lure

Fishing lure. Even if you know nothing about fishing, this book series will captivate. Photo by Mael Balland via Unsplash

 

At the same time, Sheriff Martha Ettinger asks Sean to help investigate the suspicious deaths of two men whose bodies are found on Sphinx Mountain. The secondary characters, including Martha and a cast of deputies are all so well drawn we’re sifting through clues on the mountaintop with them, bear repellent at the ready.

Throw in a cat-loving barista, a manipulative politician, and an old school cowboy, and the pages turn themselves.

The whodunit aspect of investigating the two dead men hinges on a number of clues, as well as a few red herrings. It’s an unusual premise, but it works well for this unusual but highly satisfying read. As the series continues, the relationships between Sean, Martha, and the secondary characters are as important as the crimes. New characters introduced along the way spring to life from Montana’s small towns, rivers, and history.

Get THE GRAY GHOST MURDERS on Amazon >>> http://mybook.to/gray-ghost/

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Book Review: Dublin Trilogy by Caimh McDonnell

Book Review: Dublin Trilogy by Caimh McDonnell

Author Vee James gifted me this book and a tip of the hat to him. THE MAN WITH ONE OF THOSE FACES is the first book in McDonnell’s Dublin Trilogy about the very funny, yet seriously intriguing misadventures of Paul Mulchrone, Brigit Conroy, and Garda detective Bernard “Bunny” McGarry.

The Man With One of those Faces

DUBLIN-BOUND

Don’t worry if you have never been to Dublin, because by the end of all of the books, you will be intimate with the city and its people, plus the law enforcement powers and politics of the Garda, the national police agency. The unique sport of hurling. Shopping on Grafton and Carroll. The restorative powers of Irish whiskey and Guinness beer.

hurley stick

Find out more about the Irish sport of hurley on wikipedia

I was in Dublin awhile back–long before travel became virtual–and McDonnell captures the city’s essence. It’s The Commitments, but with less music and better characters.

Get in the mood for my book review with a few scenes of this scrappy Irish city. I didn’t take them, although I wish I did!

Dublin photo by Andrea Leopardi,

Dublin photo by Andrea Leopardi,courtesy of Unsplash

Dublin photo by Lucas Swinden,

Dublin photo by Lucas Swinden courtesy of Unsplash

Guinness warehouse by Tavis Beck, courtesy Unsplash

Guinness warehouse by Tavis Beck, courtesy Unsplash

 

Ready? Step up to the bar and drink deeply of this terrific book series.

CLEVER START

Paul had a rough start in life. He was orphaned at a young age, and his only stability was the hurling club presided over by Bunny McGarry, the larger-than-life cop with his own way of meting out justice. Now an adult, Paul is trapped by a will awarding him a subsistence stipend as long as he does charity work.

He regularly visits a nursing home to fulfill the requirements. One day a resident mistakes Paul for someone else and tries to kill him before dying of shock. When the dead man is found to be a gangster thought to be long dead, Paul and Brigit, a nurse, are targeted by the gangster’s old enemies. Bunny McGarry, who has a soft spot for Paul from hurling club days, steps in, along with a few local mobsters.

The plots of all the books in the DUBLIN TRILOGY series connect from one book to the next. The mix of white knights and black sheep throws gray shadows on many of the characters while relationships develop in smart and clever ways.

UNFORGETTABLE CHARACTERS

The real charm of this series lies with dialogue and descriptions, both of which evoke some real laugh-out-loud moments. There’s a line about anybody who could “cut two holes in a tea cozy thought he was John Dillinger” that still makes me laugh at odd moments.

THE DAY THAT NEVER COMES and LAST ORDERS are the next two books in the trilogy. ANGELS IN THE MOONLIGHT is a prequel that is nonetheless listed on Amazon as #3 in the 4-volume set. The numbering is just one of the quirks of this charming, funny, and breathlessly paced series.

Highly recommended.

Get THE MAN WITH ONE OF THOSE FACES on Amazon.

PS: If you have never seen the film The Commitments, about the rise and fall of a club band in Dublin, you can watch it on Amazon’s Prime Video. 

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Book review: Denise Mina’s Still Midnight

Book review: Denise Mina’s Still Midnight

STILL MIDNIGHT by Denise Mina is the first book in the Alex Morrow detective series set in Glasgow and it’s a stunner. It’s a superb mix of Ian Rankin’s seedy Scotland from the John Rebus novels, Tana French’s angry female protagonist from THE TRESPASSER, and powerful points of view from Peter May’s THE BLACKHOUSE set in the Hebrides.

Related post: Book Review: THE BLACKHOUSE

Alexandra Morrow is a senior police detective in Glasgow; good at her job and excellent at making enemies. She doesn’t want to go home; she only wants to work. She doesn’t care if no one likes her. She already doesn’t like them. Her roughshod attitude means that a colleague gets the plum assignment; she doesn’t much care about that, either.

Despite the attitude, we like Alex and know she’s a good detective. In fact, she and Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz could be soul sisters.

Alex investigates a home invasion. Two masked men confront a middle-class immigrant family, wound the youngest daughter, and kidnap the father, demanding a huge ransom from “Bob.” When talking to the police, family members variously say the kidnappers asked for Rob or Robbie. Turns out the younger son, who just graduated from university, once ran with a gang and his street name was Bob.

The name is just one of several subtle clues that twist and turn throughout the investigation and ultimately break open the case.

In addition to Morrow’s point of view, the criminals get their turn in the sun. They aren’t playing cat and mouse with the cops so much as following a shaky plan and adjusting on the fly when their personal dramas threaten to unravel everything. The leader is prone to drinking and making mistakes. His sidekick is smarter, with useful family ties.

A simple corner store owner in a low-to-middle class section of the city, the kidnapping victim’s voice adds drama. As he is manhandled by the kidnappers, he mentally relives his harrowing childhood escape from Idi Amin’s Uganda. His mother’s actions allowed them to escape but forever estrange mother and son.

What makes STILL MIDNIGHT so engrossing is that there is a reason for everything. No misfit dangles; even red herrings seamlessly fit into the story.

Glasgow’s gray roughness is on full display. Gangs, poverty, slang, discrimination. There’s no pretense. This is true Glasgow in the way that Rebus shoves Edinburgh at us.

Bottom line—STILL MIDNIGHT is extremely well constructed, alive with action and real dialogue. Even Alex Morrow’s anger has a reason and it’s a killer.

Highly recommended.

Get it on Amazon

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Book review: Finland’s Maria Kallio police series

Book review: Finland’s Maria Kallio police series

Detective Maria Kallio is the first female police detective in the Violent Crime and Repeat Offender unit in Espoo, Finland.

She is Finland’s answer to Detective Emilia Cruz and I love her.

SNOW WOMAN is the fourth book in the Maria Kallio 12-book crime fiction series but a great introduction. I stumbled upon it by accident because the same reviewer trolled both SNOW WOMAN and one of my books. When I saw that Lehtolainen is Finland’s top crime fiction writer, with many awards for the Maria Kallio series, I knew I was in good company!

In SNOW WOMAN, Maria is assigned to make a presentation at a self-defense seminar at a famous women’s therapy center called Rosberga. A few days later, the director Elina Rosberg is murdered and found frozen in the surrounding forest.

Everyone who was at the center is a suspect, including a woman exiled from the ultra-conservative Laestadian religious sect, an angry pole dancer from a gritty Helsinki neighborhood, and a poet who was Elina’s sometime boyfriend.

Meanwhile, a character from a previous book, Markku “Madman” Halttunen, escapes from prison. Maria and her partner put him in jail and know he’s after revenge.

Both threads play out with help from a great cast of secondary characters including Atti, Maria’s mathematician husband; Laskinen, her handsome boss; and Ström, the hard-drinking fellow detective who constantly harasses her.

Modern Finland is on full display, as seen through Maria’s eyes. Espoo is the rapidly expanding second largest city in Finland. The seasons of long dark winters and all-too-short summers in this northern country affect moods and crime statistics. Assault, rape, and drug overdoses are common. Heavy drinking is the norm–whiskey and anise vodka are Maria’s own tipples of choice. She likes Finnish punk rock and the Ramones.

Yet fitness, environmental concern, and healthy eating are key elements of the Finnish lifestyle. Maria skis and runs, and often bikes to work while her husband rails against “private driving” and is a dedicated protester.

Maria narrates all the books, which get more complex as the series progresses in terms of both crime and her personal life. Indeed, there’s a strong “slice-of-life” element to the series as we follow Maria’s cop career. She’s often impulsive and short-tempered. Dedication to her job and obsession with crimesolving hurt her personal relationships. She works in the city but longs to be sailing or running in the forest or bird watching. Through it all we cheer for her, cringe at her mistakes, and hope she doesn’t take the wrong turns that are offered along the way.

The writing style is clean and direct. Like the Vera series by Ann Cleeves, suspicion falls on multiple characters. Details become essential to figuring out who done it. A few more speech tags (“said,” “asked,” etc.) would be nice but aren’t essential. Don’t worry if you can’t pronounce the Finnish names.

The Maria Kallio series books are published in English by Amazon Crossing, Amazon’s foreign translation subsidiary.

Find SNOW WOMAN on Amazon: https://amzn.to/36Ilhpm

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Book review: AUNTIE POLDI AND THE SICILIAN LIONS

Book review: AUNTIE POLDI AND THE SICILIAN LIONS

AUNTIE POLDI AND THE SICILIAN LIONS by Mario Giordino is a delicious whodunit, yet for this book review, it defies easy categorization. It’s one part Inspector Montalbano series by Andrea Camilleri and one part Don Camillo series by Giovanni Guareschi. Add a light sprinkle of AUNT JULIA  AND THE SCRIPTWRITER by Mario Vargas Llosa and you have a wickedly funny tale that is truly original.

Poldi is the nickname of Isolde Oberreiter, a 60-year-old German woman whose Sicilian husband recently passed away. Descriptions of her evoke Elizabeth Taylor in the 1970’s—caftans, bouffant black hair, imperious manner, lots of alcohol.

She takes a house in a small village in Sicily to be near her three sisters-in-law. Poldi, an ex-hippy, ex-costume designer, and the daughter of a German cop, plans to sit on her new rooftop terrace, look at the sea, and drink herself to death.

To refresh your memory, Sicily is the roughly trapezoidal island positioned at Italy’s toe, eternally waiting to be booted into the Mediterranean. A ferry trip across the Straits of Messina is a grand introduction to Sicily’s charms: almond and lemon groves, picturesque towns with cobbled streets, olde worlde trattorias where the locals meet for coffee, and pizza joints run by the Mafia. (Also creepy guys pestering women for phone numbers but, alas, I was 20 and this probably wouldn’t be an issue now.)

Related post: Book review: THE DOGS OF ROME

Poldi’s plans take a left turn when a young man who does odd jobs for her is murdered. As Sicilian law enforcement bumbles about, Poldi decides she will solve the crime herself.

Along the way, Poldi makes several enemies, runs into a poetry-spouting aristocrat and his Doberman, and is threatened by both a Mafia talisman and a dangerous intruder. She also becomes enamored of a detective who actually seems to know what he is doing.

In the end, Poldi unravels the case with the help of her sisters-in-law and the handsome detective, but the case nearly unravels her, too.

Related post:  2 Tickets to Venice

Part narrator and part Greek chorus, Poldi’s unnamed and unemployed German nephew shares her story with us. From his room in her attic, he’s perpetually writing the first chapter of a novel we know will be quite terrible.

It took great skill to craft a book this way and it shows. His narration never intrudes, but like the Vargas Llosa book, is a charming addition to the main plot. Descriptions are priceless, ranging from wryly humorous to laugh-out-loud funny. Dialogue deftly transitions from Poldi’s escapades to her brisk discussions with the nephew.

If you know a bit of Italian or simply love Italian food, you’ll appreciate AUNTIE POLDI AND THE SICILIAN LIONS all the more. The author doesn’t assume you are intimately familiar with Sicily, however, only that by the end of the book, you’ll never want to leave.

Thank goodness, Poldi’s second mystery, AUNTIE POLDI AND THE VINEYARDS OF ETNA, came out earlier this month.

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Book Review: le Carre’s A LEGACY OF SPIES

Book Review: le Carre’s A LEGACY OF SPIES

A LEGACY OF SPIES is the long sought-after backstory of le Carre’s first bestseller, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD (henceforth THE SPY), a slim volume that taught many readers how the Cold War was fought. This week’s book review is all about connecting the oh-so-cold dots.

To refresh your memory, in THE SPY British intel officer Alex Leamas, a hard-drinking, hard-driving spymaster in Berlin, pretends to get fired and fall on hard times. It is a ruse, however, for Alex to be “recruited” by Soviet/East German intelligence so he can save an odious East German intel officer who is Britain’s greatest asset inside the Iron Curtain. To position himself to be pitched, Leamas develops a relationship with an unwitting librarian named Elizabeth Gold who brings him along as her plus one when she attends a socialist conference in East Germany—all orchestrated by the brilliantly quiet George Smiley.

Related post: Book review: RED SPARROW by Jason Matthews

In A LEGACY OF SPIES, it is 50 years later. The offspring of Leamas and Gold sue the British government to find out how and why their parents disappeared. The new generation of British spooks, who want to make the lawsuit go away, find that the files on Leamas, as well as the East German agent codenamed Windfall, have been purged.

With no memory of the Cold War and no appetite for its justifications, they bring in Peter Guillam (BTW, Benedict Cumberbatch played him in the 2011 movie with Gary Oldman as George Smiley). No one can find Smiley; but as the infamous spycatcher’s right-hand-man, Guillam will do.

Guillam narrates the book, which moves across time. At first we are in the present when he is summoned to London, there to find that long-held secrets are on the verge of being exposed. Then through his memory, we are transported to a Cold War landscape. London plots and directs. Spies sneak in and out of East Germany which is replete with Stasi brutality and Communist paranoia. There are shortages of everything, except informers.

The look into the past gives us the first case in which Smiley is led to believe there is a mole inside British intelligence and reveals how Windfall came to be recruited to the British side. These elements set in motion everything that happens in THE SPY.

A LEGACY OF SPIES is another le Carré espionage tour de force. Haunting writing, the sense of wheels-within-wheels. The back and forth across time is handled deftly, without confusion.

Subtle clues abound. Gather them carefully—le Carré is never obvious.

The book is a standalone, but will be a richer experience if you have at least read THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD (or saw the 1965 movie starring Richard Burton. FYI Dublin substituted for Berlin).

Other bestsellers featuring Smiley and his team, TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY and SMILEY’S PEOPLE, are also referenced in A LEGACY OF SPIES. Peter Guillam was with Smiley through the entire Cold War, you see, and he has a long memory.

Highly recommended.

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Louise Penny’s KINGDOM OF THE BLIND

Louise Penny’s KINGDOM OF THE BLIND

In Loise Penny’s latest Armand Gamache mystery, KINGDOM OF THE BLIND, the Canadian crime fighter has been suspended from his job as head of the Sureté, the top law enforcement agency in Canada’s French-speaking Quebec province. The storyline is a continuation of the previous book, GLASS HOUSES, in which Gamache lets known shipments of drugs slip into Quebec in order to follow the trail of a major drug kingpin.

Truth be told, as someone who writes about drug smuggling and cartel kingpins, I found the premise of GLASS HOUSES ludicrous and the ending painfully naïve. Most of the previous Gamache novels focused on art-related crime with deep dives into relationships, motive and psychology. KINGDOM OF THE BLIND returns to that winning formula, but cleans up the mess left by GLASS HOUSES.

Thank goodness.

Related post: Department Q and THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES

Gamache, awaiting the results of an official inquiry into his failed counterdrug actions,  is surprised to find out he’s been named executor of the estate of a woman he never met. Myrna, his neighbor in the tiny village of Three Pines, is also an executor as is a young builder from Montreal.  The unknown deceased was a cleaning lady who liked to be called “the Baroness.”  Her three children are surprised to have three strangers enter their lives in connection with their late mother’s will.

DUAL plotlines

As Gamache pokes into the Baroness’s background, KINGDOM OF THE BLIND branches out in multiple page-turning directions. The Baroness was a descendant of a European industrialist whose fortune has been tied up in courts for more than a century. Who knew? Was it possible she was going to inherit? Gamache is sent spinning in yet another direction when the Baroness’s house collapses and one of her sons is found murdered.

At the same time, Gamache is tracking a cadet who was kicked out of the Sureté training academy for allegedly dealing drugs. The girl was once a crackhead and she immediately hits the streets in search of the carfentanil shipment which slipped through Gamache’s fingers in GLASS HOUSES. While Penny wants us to believe she’s gone back to her old ways, it wasn’t hard to guess that she is undercover.

Character-driven

While the drug scene excerpts were more believable this time around, the Three Pines cast of characters is what makes KINGDOM OF THE BLIND another Gamache winner. There are several epic meals, with everyone chiming in around the table in the bistro or someone’s home in the village, all talking over each other as they puzzle out murder, mayhem, and the strange legacy of the Baroness’s ancestors.

This is perfect “chorus of voices” writing. The dialogue crackles with insider jokes; each comment perfectly pitched to the speaker. The various personalities shine through, laced with humor and empathy. These scenes contain the best group dialogue I’ve ever read.

Someone asked a Facebook mystery group to name their favorite book setting and the response was a near unanimous “Three Pines.” Readers wanted to curl up in Olivier’s Bistro with a hot chocolate in the evening or enjoy café au lait and pancakes in the morning. KINGDOM OF THE BLIND does a wonderful and much-needed job of bringing us back to Three Pines for another memorable Gamache story.

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Department Q and The Keeper of Lost Causes

Department Q and The Keeper of Lost Causes

THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES, the first Department Q novel by Jussi Adler-Olsen, has toppled Jo Nesbo from the top of my Nordic Noir favorites list.

And I didn’t even know I wanted to go to Denmark.

Some series take a few books before all the pieces are properly in place but Department Q comes at us with all elements fully formed: everyman hero with a wry inner voice, an intriguing sidekick, and an investigative style that relies heavily on pulling threads, connecting dots, and spotting liars.

Detective Carl Mørck returns to work in the Copenhagen Police Department’s  homicide unit after being ambushed and shot while investigating a murder victim killed with a nail gun; a backstory that promises to spool out over the life of the series. One of Carl’s close colleagues died in the ambush and another was left a quadriplegic, who together with a silly ex-wife, hippie stepson, and the guy who rents part of Carl’s house, populates Carl’s appealing inner circle.

In short order, Carl is banished to the police station’s basement with a “promotion” to head up Department Q, a political stunt to sooth public concerns over cold cases. Carl plans to use his new lair to nap and play computer solitaire but real work is expected. Carl quickly realizes he’s a staff of one and corners his boss into giving him help. Enter Assad, a Syrian immigrant hired to mop floors.

Out of all the old files heaped on his desk, Carl picks the disappearance five years ago of an up-and-coming Danish politician, Merete Lynggard. The assumption is suicide, but the case was handled sloppily and there are still leads to run down. While hiding his own past, Assad proves to be uncannily observant and resilient, helping Carl piece together clues and get out of tight situations.

Carl’s point of view alternates with that of kidnapping victim Merete. Clues for Carl are deliberately out of sync with Merete’s experiences, creating a tempo that simply rocks throughout what is a fairly long book.

THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES is the start of an addictive series. Over the next few books, Carl’s tiny Department Q basement empire grows in fits and starts, his quadriplegic former colleague offers pivotal insights, and investigative techniques hinge on probing questions and seemingly innocuous details. Carl’s often humorous reflections are counterbalanced by the inner voices of both villains and victims. Assad remains an enigma.

Start with THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES and keep going. Department Q needs you.​​​​​​​

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

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