Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Die With Me: Elena Forbes

Description from the book flap:
When fourteen-year-old Gemma Kramer's broken body is found on the floor of St. Sebastian's Church, the official ruling is that she jumped to her death from the organ gallery. But then a witness claims to have seen Gemma kissing a much older man before the two disappeared into the church together. After the toxicology report comes back showing traces of GHB in her system, a full-scale murder investigation is launched.
At the helm is DI Mark Tartaglia, a stubborn detective known for following his hunches. It's Tartaglia's first time in charge, and he walks right into a political minefield as the murder squad turns up three more suspicious deaths -- all involving vulnerable young women falling from strange places, all initially ruled suicides.

DI Mark Tartaglia and DS Sam (Samantha) Donovan are straightforward investigators with no overriding hangups or addictions. There are relationship issues within the department, but that is about as complicated as it gets, and I liked that. I don't mind it when a book focuses on a policeman who is damaged or recovering, but sometimes I like a straight police story. Unfortunately this one is also about a serial killer and that is not my favorite story line.

This book is the first in a series of four books. Although the books are billed as the Mark Tartaglia series, DS Sam Donovan also gets plenty of involvement and attention in this one. At one time she was attracted to Mark, but decided early on that wasn't going to work. There is also a focus on the new head of the group, DCI Carolyn Steele, who is brought in to take over the investigation when it begins to get more attention. Mark resents this but handles himself well in the situation. We get a look at the personal lives of several of the detectives, but not to the extent that it takes over the main story.

For readers who like serial killer novels or don't have a bias one way or the other, I can say that this is a good police procedural and I highly recommend it. The detectives are not overly flawed; they have the normal amount of problems that anyone would have. None of them are perfect; none are know-it-alls. The detection is realistic and there is sufficient action and tension to keep one interested, without any graphic violence.


Publisher:  MacAdam/Cage Publishing, 2007.
Length:      341 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Mark Tataglia, #1
Setting:      London
Genre:       Police Procedural
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Crime Fiction Reading in September

In September I read six crime fiction books. Five of those books were by authors I had read before; one book was the first novel by its author. All six were a pleasure to read. Thus, it was a very good reading month.

The books I read were:

From Bruges with Love by Pieter Aspe
King and Joker by Peter Dickinson
Ask for Me Tomorrow by Margaret Millar
The Con Man by Ed McBain
In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward
Ghost Hero by S. J. Rozan

Amazingly, I have reviewed almost all of the books I read in the last month. (That means that there are several from August that still have not been reviewed.) The only book that I read in September and that I have not reviewed is Ghost Hero. That book is the latest in a series about two private detectives based in New York's Chinatown. As often happens (to me) in a series, this later book was not as much to my liking as the earlier ones, but many reviewers preferred it over previous entries. Review coming soon.

It is easy to decide on my Crime Fiction Pick of the Month for September. Although King and Joker is one of my all-time favorite books, I don't think the crime fiction element is the best part. Thus, I would choose In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward as my Pick of the Month.

In Bitter Chill has everything I look for in a mystery novel. I love a good police procedural, but I want more than just an investigation. I was interested in the characters and they were believable. The reader sees the story from the investigator's viewpoint but also gets a picture of the lives of those affected by the crime. And the story is told without excessive violence. On top of all that, the writing pulled me into the story from beginning to end.

Here are a couple of reviews for In Bitter Chill that came out after I posted my review:

The Crime Fiction Pick of the Month meme is hosted at Mysteries in Paradise. Bloggers link to summary posts for the month, and identify a crime fiction best read of the month. Check out the link here to see the other bloggers' picks.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Con Man: Ed McBain

This was the fourth book that I have read by Ed McBain; they have all been in the 87th Precinct series. I plan to read all of them in order. That may be ambitious because I have quite a few left and all of them are not as short and sweet as these first four.

This novel concentrates on one kind of criminal: the con man. There are two cases, and the book explores the different levels that a con can be played at. In one case, the end result is murder, and the game is much more serious.

A unique element of the 87th Precinct series is that they include documents from the investigations, which contributes to the feeling that you are getting the real picture of an investigation. The policemen are very believable characters, with flaws and varying personalities.

I also like the ethnic mix of characters, which makes sense in the setting of these books, where Isola stands in for New York. Steve Carella, in the spotlight in this book, is Italian. Arthur Brown is black. There is a Chinese tattoo artist who also figures prominently.

This book kept me entertained and engaged throughout. In my reviews of previous books in this series, I had noted some lovely descriptive passages. That type of writing seemed to be absent in this book. Not a detriment, necessarily; this one focused more on the policemen's experiences. Steve Carella was seriously wounded in the previous book and is still suffering pain and working through it. Bert Kling, the newest detective on the squad, is trying to find some way to take a trip with his fiance.

The only negative aspect for me was that I did not care for Steve Carella's wife being so involved in this story, to the point of getting herself in danger. The storyline was plausible and it did fit her character, so I don't know why it bothered me.

See other reviews at Tipping My Fedora, The Violent World of Parker (also reviews Killer's Choice), and Joe Barone's Blog.


Publisher:   Thomas & Mercer, 2011 (orig. pub. 1957)
Length:       204 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       87th Precinct, #4
Setting:      Isola, fictional city loosely based on New York City
Genre:        Police procedural
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Monday, September 28, 2015

In Bitter Chill: Sarah Ward

In Bitter Chill is about the abduction of two very young girls while walking to school. Rachel is returned to her family, but Sophie is never found. Over thirty years later, Sophie's mother is found dead in a hotel room on the anniversary of her daughter's disappearance, and all evidence points to suicide. Everyone wonders what triggered her to commit suicide so many years after the incident, and the police consider reopening the investigation of Sophie's abduction.

Rachel's life is turned upside down by the new attention she is getting and it brings her buried feelings about the event to the surface. The story moves between 1978, when the crime occurred, and the police investigation in the present. Rachel plays a big part in both of these. Although she has never been able to remember anything about what happened after she was abducted up to the the time she was found, she begins to want to make some sense of what happened.

The unfolding of the story is very well done and kept me absorbed from beginning to end. All of the primary characters were very interesting and fleshed out very well. Rachel is a genealogist and has her own business doing research for clients. Thus she is well-equipped to follow up on some clues herself.

The first chapter is a perfect introduction to Detective Inspector Sadler and his team. Detective Sergeant Damian Palmer, who took the job to be closer to his fiance, is like a younger version of Sadler. Detective Constable Connie Childs is a local; she brings an understanding of the community to the job. Connie is also the most prominently featured detective in this book. They work for Bampton CID in Derbyshire.
Bampton had started off, like many others in England, as a place of trade. Tourists were often surprised to find that the picturesque Peak town also supported working businesses, a continual gripe with locals trying to find parking spaces during the summer. A cattle market had been in existence since 1309, but Bampton's pinnacle had been during the nineteenth century when a canal had been built to facilitate the movement of goods in and out of the town. The canal had carried coal from the mine thirty miles south and limestone from the nearby quarries. The fact that it had now become a tourist stop had only added to Bampton's image of itself. An air of self-satisfaction was the legacy of its affluent Victorian heritage.
Another element I enjoyed is the exploration of family and community relationships. Rachel has had close relationships with both her mother and her grandmother, but her father died before she was born. Sophie's mother was a loner before and after Sophie disappeared. The detectives talk to many in the community who were around when Sophie disappeared.

I highly recommend this book. This is Sarah Ward's debut novel, but it is hard to tell that it is her first book. It is a police procedural, one of my favorite types of crime fiction, and I especially liked that it had strong female characters.

The book was published on July 2nd, 2015 in the UK. It will be published on September 29th, 2015 here in the US.

Also see:


Publisher:   Minotaur Books, 2015 (orig. pub. in UK)
Length:       314 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Setting:      Derbyshire, UK
Genre:       Police procedural
Source:      Provided by the author and the publisher for review

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Spies, Spies, Spies (Book Sale Part 1)

Today the Planned Parenthood Book Sale ended, and unlike last year, I attended on the last day when the books go down to 50% off. I did not expect to find much (and I hoped not to find much). I had already overdone my book buying on the previous three visits. But I did find books I had not seen before that I was very happy with.

However, the subject of this post is the spy novels I found on the earlier visits. Two of them I was looking for (A Spy's Life by Henry Porter and Catch a Falling Spy by Len Deighton). The other three were either entirely new to me or not really on my radar.

I would love to hear if any of you have comments on your experiences with any of these books.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Ask For Me Tomorrow: Margaret Millar

This book was published in 1976; Margaret Millar's first novel, The Invisible Worm, was published in 1941. Her later books are not generally considered her best.  This is only the second one I have read recently, so I can't judge, but I liked this one just fine. The story was strange and different, which is what I expect from Millar. There is more than one twist toward the end and she kept me guessing. The dialogue is well done. Just enough dialogue, just enough story and description. The book kept me entertained and I am looking forward to more books by this author.

Tom Aragon is hired by Gilly Decker to find her ex-husband, B. J. Lockwood, who eight years earlier ran off to Mexico with a servant who was pregnant with his son. In the meantime, Gilly remarried but this husband had a stroke almost immediately after they married. From a letter received from B. J. requesting money, Gilly knows that he went to Baja California and got in trouble with a development scheme. Aragon makes two trips to to the small fishing town that B. J. settled in to find out what happened to him or his son.

The story is set in two places, a California town by the ocean, called Santa Felicia in the book, and a small town in Mexico, also on the ocean. Because Millar and her husband, Kenneth Millar (pseudonym of Ross Macdonald) lived in Santa Barbara, California, one can assume that Santa Felicia stands in for Santa Barbara. Because I moved to Santa Barbara only four years after this book was published, it was interesting to think that the city would have been about the same then as when I moved there. The part set in California takes place primarily in the rich woman's home and I have no familiarity with the homes of the rich. There are a lot of them here though.

Millar describes the Santa Ana winds that are common in the summer and the fall in Southern California:
The wind had come up during the night, a santa ana that brought with it sand and dust from the desert on the other side of the mountain. By midmorning the city was stalled as if by a blizzard. People huddled in doorways shielding their faces with scarfs and handkerchiefs. Cars were abandoned in parking lots and here and there news racks had overturned and broken and their contents were blowing down the street, rising and falling like battered white birds.
I don't remember any Santa Anas quite that damaging, but they are scary and uncomfortable. And now we always worry that they will cause a wildfire.

Some reviewers suggest that Millar's failure to stick with a series character may have affected the popularity of her books. This book features one of her series characters, Tom Aragon, who is also in two later books. Aragon is a junior member of a law firm and in this book he does detective work for the firm. (I understand that is true of the other books also.)

The majority of the story is centered on Tom Aragon's trips to Mexico, and that was the part I enjoyed most. Gilly requested a bilingual investigator. Aragon grew up in the "barrio on lower Estero Street" and his mother never learned to speak English, so he fits her needs. In my opinion, he is the most fleshed-out character but there are a lot of interesting characters in the book.

This book is my second submission for 1976 for the Crimes of the Century meme at Past Offences.


Publisher:   Avon, 1978 (orig. pub. 1976)
Length:      176 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Tom Aragon, #1
Setting:      Southern California, Mexico
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2014.