Saturday, February 27, 2016

Four Years of Blogging

About four years ago I started blogging. My main goal at the time was to have an outlet for writing about the books I read. Also, a record of which books and authors I had read and whether I liked them and why. Of course, I got much more than that. Other bloggers reached out and I took part in some challenges, and learned about even more bloggers who focused on crime fiction old and new.

Since then, I have discovered that the joy of blogging is learning from other bloggers about books and authors I never knew about, or would have considered reading. The pain of blogging is knowing that I will never be able to read all the books I am interested in, which has come up in many comment threads lately.

Last year in my third anniversary post I talked about how my reading tastes had changed and expanded since I started blogging. This year I thought I would focus on one of my favorite publishers of crime fiction, Soho. And specifically the books published by Soho that are in my TBR stacks.

The picture above features several authors I am looking forward to reading, either for the first time or to continue a series. Soho Crime specializes in crime fiction with an international setting. 

  • Quentin Bates' Officer Gunnhildur Mystery series is set in Iceland.
  • Magdalen Nabb's Marshal Guarnaccia series is set in Italy.
  • Leighton Gage's Chief Inspector Mario Silva series is set in Brazil.
  • Rebecca Pawel's Tejada series is set in Spain in the years before World War I.
  • Peter Lovesey's Peter Diamond series is set in England.
  • Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri Paiboun series is set in Laos.
  • Grace Brophy's two books about Commissario Cenni are set in Italy.
  • Martin Limón's George Sueño and Ernie Bascom series is set in Korea in the 1970's
  • T. Frank Muir's DCI Andy Gilchrist series is set in Ireland.
  • Graeme Kent's Sister Conchita and Sergeant Kella mystery series is set in the Solomon Islands.
  • David Downing's John Russell series is set in Germany in the late 1930s and the 1940s.
  • Qiu Xiaolong's Inspector Chen Cao series is set in China.
  • Stan Jones' Nathan Active series is set in Alaska.
  • Gary Disher's Inspector Hal Challis series is set in Australia.
  • Helene Tursten's Inspector Huss series is set in Sweden.

I have had most of these books for several years and I have only read books by seven of these authors, which means I have lots to look forward to.

Night Rounds is the second book in Helene Tursten's Inspector Huss series. Below are my thoughts on the first book, which is titled Detective Inspector Huss:
Irene Huss is a strong female character, and I like that. In addition to highlighting sociological issues in Sweden, the book addresses women's roles in male dominated jobs like law enforcement.
The author has the gift of portraying the characters ... at least the detectives ... as real people with real lives. The details of Huss' day to day life feel authentic but not boring.
My full review is here. This book was reviewed by Maxine at Petrona.

I haven't read any of the books by this author and this is the first in the series.

From the review at Publisher's Weekly:

The hero of Jones's promising first novel is Nathan Active, an Alaska state trooper. He is an Inupiat, but was given away by his mother when he was a baby, and raised by a white couple in Anchorage. Now he knows little of his background, and feels torn between two worlds. Nathan's bafflement hasn't been helped by his work assignment in Chukchi, the town in the rural northwestern corner of Alaska where he was born and where his birth mother still lives. The Inupiat townsfolk there have welcomed the opening of the Gray Wolf copper mine, as it provides jobs for young people. The number of wife-beatings and liquor-related offenses has declined dramatically. But now two local men have died in the same week, each of a gunshot wound in the throat.

Kittyhawk Down is the second novel in Garry Disher's Inspector Hal Challis series. I did read the first one, and enjoyed it. Maxine at Petrona said that Kittyhawk Down "is even better than the first, Dragon Man, and that’s saying something."

From the back of the book:

A missing two-year-old girl, and the body of an unidentified drowning victim have brought Homicide Squad Inspector Hal Challis, of the Peninsula Police Force, to Bushrangers Bay at the Australian seaside not far from Melbourne.

Of all these series published by Soho, this one is set in the most exotic location: the Solomon Islands. I know little about that area. I was motivated to buy this book both for the cover featuring skulls and the unusual location. And it doesn't hurt that it features a nun, Sister Conchita.

From the summary at Goodreads:

It's not easy being Ben Kella. As a sergeant in the Solomon Islands Police Force, as well as an aofia, a hereditary spiritual peacekeeper of the Lau people, he is viewed with distrust by both the indigenous islanders and the British colonial authorities. In the past few days he has been cursed by a magic man, stumbled across evidence of a cargo cult uprising, and failed to find an American anthropologist who had been scouring the mountains for a priceless pornographic icon. Then, at a mission station, Kella discovers an independent and rebellious young American nun, Sister Conchita, secretly trying to bury a skeleton.

The first book in Downing's John Russell World War II spy thriller series was Zoo Station. Each book in the series has the name of a train station in Berlin as its title. Silesian Station is the second novel in the series.

Summary at Soho Press website:

Summer, 1939. British journalist John Russell has just been granted American citizenship in exchange for agreeing to work for American intelligence when his girlfriend Effi is arrested by the Gestapo. Russell hoped his new nationality would let him safely stay in Berlin with Effi and his son, but now he’s being blackmailed. To free Effi...

There is a review of Silesian Station at Eurocrime along with a review of One Man's Flag from Downing's Jack McColl series.

Of all of these books, Buddha's Money by Martin Limón is the one I want to read next. I read the first two books in the series, Jade Lady Burning and Slicky Boys, and I liked them a lot. My review of Slicky Boys is here.

The books in this series can be described as hard-boiled police procedural thrillers. The two heroes, Corporal George Sueño and Sergeant Ernie Bascom of the US Army, are Criminal Investigation Division agents in Seoul, Korea in the 1970s. Limón gives us a look at Korea, its culture, and its people at this time.

From the back of the book:

Retired Army officer Herman Burkowicz has quite a lucrative setup smuggling rare Korean artifacts. But then his nine-year-old foster daughter, Mi-ja, is abducted, and her kidnappers demand a ransom Burkowicz doesn’t have: a priceless jade skull from the age of Genghis Khan. Sueño and Bascom—more accustomed to chasing felons and black marketeers in the back alleys of Itaewon than ancient treasures—go in over their heads as they agree to search for the skull...

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Pashazade: John Courtenay Grimwood

Jon Courtenay Grimwood, author of Pashazade, was born in Malta in 1953, and grew up in Malta, Britain, Southeast Asia and Norway. He and his wife, novelist Sam Baker, divide their time between Winchester and Paris. Grimwood has written mostly novels in the science fiction and fantasy genres, and many of them also have mystery elements. This is the second book I have read by this author, and I hope to read many more.

Pashazade is the first book in the Arabesk Trilogy. The story starts with the investigation of a murder, but the chapters skip back and forth in time, sometimes a few days, sometimes going back years in flashbacks. The setting in the present time is El Iskandryia, a North African metropolis in a world where "the United States brokered a deal that ended World War I and the Ottoman Empire never collapsed," as described on the back of the book. So this is an alternate history, sci-fi, coming of age thriller, and just my cup of tea.

The central character in the trilogy is Ashraf al-Mansur, also known as 'Raf' and 'ZeeZee' (which gets confusing). He is a young man who has been released from a Seattle prison and brought to El Iskandryia to marry the daughter of the wealthy Hamzah Effendi. Supposedly he is the son of the Emir of Tunis, thus the title of the book. Pashazade is an Ottoman form of address or epithet, meaning "son of a Pasha". Raf is not sure about this; he has never known who his father was. Shortly after arriving and having met his new family, Raf is accused of a murder and thus gets involved in the investigation in order to clear himself.

I love the way Grimwood writes. The story was very complex and was often hard to follow. I wavered between confused and delighted and sometimes had no idea where the story was going, but I loved the journey.

He has created characters I care about and takes time to develop them. In addition to Raf, there is Zara, Hamzah Effendi's daughter, who is no more interested in the arranged marriage than he is. There is Hani, his nine-year-old cousin, a wonderful character. And Chief of Detectives Felix Abrinsky, formerly a policeman in Los Angeles, California, who is investigating the murder that Raf is accused of.

The author combines a murder investigation, although a very offbeat one, and alternate history, and throws in just a bit of sci fi. Many crime fiction readers won't go for that combination, but I do highly recommend this author and his writing. It is my impression that much of his work follows this same pattern. The first book I read by Grimwood was 9tail Fox, which is a standalone.


Publisher:   Bantam, 2005. Orig. pub. 2001.
Length:       356 pages
Series:        Arabesk Trilogy #1
Format:       Trade paperback
Setting:       North African, alternate history version
Genre:        Sci fi / Mystery

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

13 at Dinner: Agatha Christie

13 at Dinner is the seventh novel featuring Hercule Poirot. It was first published in the UK in 1933 as Lord Edgware Dies. Thus this is my submission for Past Offences' monthly Crimes of the Century feature.

In this novel, Poirot is approached by the well known actress, Jane Wilkinson, to mediate for her to convince her husband, Lord Edgware, to divorce her. She states very openly that things would be much better for her if he was dead. The next day Lord Edgware tells Poirot that he has already agreed to the divorce and had mailed a letter to Jane months ago telling her this. That very evening Lord Edgware is murdered. The police assume that Jane is the murderer based on the evidence of two witnesses who saw her visiting him at his house the same night; she is soon released because she has an alibi. The rest of the book has Scotland Yard Inspector Japp and Poirot following leads to discover the real murderer.

>>> What did I like?

I liked the humor in this novel. Poirot's friend Hastings is the narrator, and he was especially critical of Poirot's conceit, which I always find entertaining.
'Mon cher, am I tonight the fortune-teller who reads the palm and tells the character?'
'You could do it better than most,' I rejoined.
'It is a very pretty faith that you have in me, Hastings. It touches me. Do you not know, my friend, that each one of us is a dark mystery, a maze of conflicting passions and desires and attitudes? Mais oui, c'est vrai. One makes one's little judgments - but nine times out of ten one is wrong.'
'Not Hercule Poirot,' I said, smiling.
'Even Hercule Poirot! Oh! I know very well that you have always a little idea that I am conceited, but, indeed, I assure you, I am really a very humble person.'
I laughed.
'You - humble!'
'It is so. Except - I confess it - that I am a little proud of my moustaches. Nowhere in London have I observed anything to compare with them.'
'You are quite safe,' I said dryly. 'You won't....'
The inclusion of Inspector Japp was also a bonus. This is the fourth Poirot novel to include Japp in the investigation, and he plays a large role. In Peril at End House, Japp only shows up at the end. In this novel, Japp is in charge of the investigation, but he encourages Poirot's participation and even follows up on aspects of the case when requested by Poirot.

>>> What did I dislike?

The case goes on too long with no resolution and no real breaks in the case. At the beginning of the book, Poirot states that he would never have solved it without hearing a chance comment when walking down the street. He leaves most of the work to Japp and makes little effort to pursue the investigation, even though he is sure Japp is going in the wrong direction.

This was not a major problem because Christie's writing and characterizations are good, but in this story it was the interaction of Poirot with other characters, particularly Hastings and Japp, that entertained me, not the plot.

I figured out the guilty party early on. I don't mind solving the puzzle, especially as I don't do it that often, but I did not feel that Christie was particularly good at introducing red herrings in this book.

>>> How well did the book reflect the times?

The book gives us a picture of the social classes in England at the time. The victim is the "wealthy but slightly eccentric" Lord Edgware, and Jane wants him out the way so that she can marry the Duke of Merton, also wealthy and able to give her the position in society she craves. There are plenty of other characters who are not in the upper classes, at times so many I could not keep track of them, but they all revolve around those households.

I noted that there were many female characters and a good number of them were supporting themselves. I don't know how commonplace this was but I liked seeing that in a vintage mystery. None of them seemed to be the clinging type, although Jane, who is a successful actress, is looking for a marriage that will improve her status. Carlotta Adams, another important character, is an American entertainer who does impersonations. Carlotta is not doing so well financially, which is a key point in the book, but she is supporting herself. Also featured are Miss Carroll, Lord Edgware's secretary, and Carlotta's friend Jenny Driver, who has her own hat shop.

In summary, I would not place this book in my list of favorite Agatha Christie books. There were too many characters, and it went on too long. But it was still a good read. Reading Agatha Christie is never a waste of time.

This post is also submitted for the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt in the "Clock/Timepiece" category.


Publisher:  Dell, 1944. Orig. pub. 1933.
Length:     239 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Hercule Poirot, #7
Setting:     London
Genre:       Mystery
Source:     I purchased my copies.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Hour of the Cat: Peter Quinn

Overview at the author's website:
On the eve of World War II, a homicide is committed in New York City, a simple murder indistinguishable from hundreds of others. But all is not as it seems. Two vastly different men— an American detective and a German admiral— are drawn into the gathering storm. It is soon plain that this case stretches far beyond the crime scene— to Nazi Germany and into a murderous conspiracy of a scope that defies imagination. With masterful command of fact and fiction, Peter Quinn transports readers to a pre-war New York brimming with atmosphere and consequence.
This book covers multiple stories in New York and Berlin, but it is the story of Fintan Dunne, an ex-policeman now working as a private detective, that I found the most memorable. Approached by a woman to save her brother from the electric chair, he takes on the case even though he is not convinced of the man's innocence. When he encounters resistance to his investigation, he begins to believe that there is validity in her view. In the end the resolution is over the top, yet I found the reading experience extremely rewarding.

My husband initially purchased this book, then passed it on to me. I will be holding on to it; I feel it is worth a reread. There are two more books to follow featuring Fintan Dunne, and I already have the second one.

My husband's review at Goodreads:
This sprawling work has elements of political and spy thriller but is mostly a tight and gritty 30's style detective novel with a great feel for time and place. Initially the plot meanders a bit and the shifts of focus between New York City and Berlin have an effect on the momentum but once it becomes clear that some grisly events in Germany are tied to some New York murders all is very good. The protagonist, private eye Dunne, is an excellent character, written with a subtlety that ensures he doesn't come off as pulp detective cliche. The inclusion of real people (Bill Donovan, Wilhelm Canaris among them) as main characters is also well handled (think E.L. Doctorow).
Links to three other reviews with more detail:
     Rob Kitchin at The View From the Blue House
     Jackie's review at Goodreads
     Review at USA Today


Publisher:   Overlook Press, 2005 
Length:       398 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Series:        Fintan Dunne #1
Setting:       New York, Berlin
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       Passed on to me by my husband.

Friday, February 12, 2016

"Watch Me Kill You!" by Norbert Davis

The first card I drew for the Deal Me In Short Story Challenge this year was the 2 of Spades. Thus this was a Wild Card choice and I could pick any short story I wanted. This threw me for a loop as I was looking for more structure on that particular day, but I knew I had several books of short stories that I wanted to read in order, so I went looking for them. The book I chose was The Complete Cases of Max Latin by Norbert Davis, and the first story in that book is "Watch Me Kill You!".

Max Latin is a private detective with a difference; his office is a table in a restaurant where he spends much of his time. He presents himself as a shady character, and at the beginning of this story he has just gotten out of jail. He is approached by the husband of a very rich woman who is known as a collector of art; the wife wants some pieces of art painted by her cousin, who refuses to sell them to her. Even though this is an unusual assignment, Latin sees this as an easy route to some cash, so he takes it on. When he goes to visit the cousin, the cousin is lying on the floor, dead, in his studio. Much mayhem ensues and Latin investigates.

The Complete Cases of Max Latin consists of five stories originally published in Dime Detective magazine between July 1941 and October 1943. The book is 225 pages long and each story is 40-50 pages long, and divided into chapters. "Watch Me Kill You!" is 50 pages long (in trade paper format) and has six chapters. The book has a introduction by John D. MacDonald, written in 1988 for The Adventures of Max Latin published by Mysterious Press. The introduction alone is worth the price of the book.

Norbert Davis is known for the humor in his writing. Since humor in mysteries is not my favorite thing, I wasn't sure about his writing, but I have purchased all of the books in the Doan and Carstairs series, and I have been planning to read those for a while. This story gave me a taste, and I will be continuing with more of his works.

My list of short stories for the Deal Me In Short Story Challenge is here. Jay at Bibliophilopolis hosts the challenge.

If you want to know more about Norbert Davis or his Max Latin stories, you could start here:

  • Norbert Davis at The Thrilling Detective Web Site, a piece which has links to other sources.
  • Max Latin at The Thrilling Detective Web Site

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Year of the Dog: Henry Chang

Year of the Dog by Henry Chang is the 2nd of four books featuring American-born Jack Yu, who is one of only a few Chinese officers in the NYPD. In the first book in the series, Chinatown Beat, Jack Yu is assigned to the Chinatown precinct. In this book, he has been transferred to another precinct,which he prefers because he has too many personal ties in Chinatown. But, with his background, he ends up getting involved with cases in Chinatown anyway.

Jack works many of the standard holidays, whether because he is new to the precinct or he doesn't normally celebrate them. The action begins on Thanksgiving Day in 1994 (the Year of the Dog in the Chinese zodiac). Jack watches the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on a TV at a Korean deli as he sips his bowl of chowder. The novel ends on the first day of the Year of the Pig (January 31, 1995), as Jack attends the Chinese New Year parade.

I liked this book a lot. At the end I noticed that it was very unlike most novels I read. It was more a loosely connected set of stories, mostly centered around the criminal element in Chinatown. There is not any overall crime that is investigated throughout the book. This worked for me, but some readers might come away disappointed.

This paragraph from the book jacket flap describes it well:
In this vivid evocation, Chang shows us the people he understands so well:  a Chinese yuppie whose loss of face ends in tragedy;  an ailing bookie with romance in his soul;  a would-be gang leader and the tough new immigrants from Fukien who confront him;  and the triad official, Grass Sandal, sent from Hong Kong to liase with local benevolent societies. Year of the Dog shows us what exists beneath the surface of the tourists' Chinatown.
This book has strong elements of the noir genre, but I don't see it as totally noir. Most of the story is about the criminal underbelly of New York's Chinatown, but Jack, the main character is ethical, with a strong moral code. There is a story of a secondary character that ends well. I was rooting for that character from the moment she was introduced.

Another favorite character was Police Officer Wong, "a rookie patrolman, a Chinese-American portable who could speak several Chinese dialects." Wong pulls Jack into a missing person case on Christmas Eve.

I will admit to having trouble keeping track of the various criminal characters with similar (to me) Chinese names. There were scenes of graphic violence and sex that could be objectionable to some readers. I did not consider these major flaws, and I will be continuing to read the next two novels in this series. My husband has copies of the whole series, so that will be easy.

I also plan to follow up on reading two novels by Ed Lin set in Chinatown in the 1970's, which I purchased a couple of years ago. Another series I have read set in New York's Chinatown is the Bill Smith/Lydia Chin novels by S. J. Rozan. Those are set in the 1990's to present day. I reviewed the last novel in the series, Ghost Hero, here.

This year, Chinese New Year - The Year of the Monkey - begins on February 8th and lasts until Jan 27th, 2017. I was motivated to read Year of the Dog (at this time) because I saw last year's Chinese New Year Crime Fiction post at Mystery Fanfare. This year's list of crime fiction that takes place during the Chinese New Year is HERE.


Publisher:   Soho Press, 2008 
Length:       231 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Jack Yu #2
Setting:      New York, Chinatown
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:      Borrowed from my husband.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Trust Me On This: Donald E. Westlake

Sara Joslyn gets a job at a phenomenal salary at the Weekly Galaxy, a supermarket tabloid newspaper. She refused the job the first time it was offered and took a job for much less pay at a small New England paper. Then that paper was taken over by another business and she is out of a job. So working for a tabloid turns out to be better than nothing.

On her first day at work, Sara drives by the scene of a crime on the isolated road to her new workplace.  A man has been murdered and she is the only witness. His body is half in and half out of the car, in the driver's seat. She thinks she has found her first story and is eager to impress her new employer. But when she arrives at the office no one is interested in a real crime. They want stories on fad diets or celebrity shenanigans or alien invasions.

The next time she goes by the same spot, on her way home, the body and the car are gone and she assumes that the police are investigating.  Later she realizes that nothing has shown up in the news about the death and the police have not interviewed her. She is curious and starts following up on the crime. Yet her job gets in the way and she is kept very busy.

Sara turns out to be very good at the work the Galaxy does, going after bizarre stories, even faking stories. Along the way, the crime that Sara witnessed fades into the background. She has no proof that it even happened. To be honest, once I got into the story, I did not really care who the murderer was. But the story comes together in the end.

The picture of the workings of the Galaxy is fascinating. The characters are great and there are lots of them, some more likable than others. In some ways this book is too weird to describe; you have to experience it. There are no offices in the working area; tape on the floor demarks "walls" and "doors" and "squaricles", sort of like a cubicles but with no real walls.

Sara's boss, Jack Ingersoll, is an editor whose squaricle has a window, because he is doing a decent job at getting stories in print. Initially they butt heads constantly, but eventually Sara gains some respect and admiration for Jack. They work well together although mostly he sends her out on expeditions alone and with teams to find or create stories. Sometimes I squirmed at the invasions of privacy and the effort they made to get any information, good or bad, on famous people.

But the real fun of the book is the descriptions of the Galaxy office, its editors and reporters, and the maniacal owner who is obsessed with one special celebrity, John Michael Mercer, and will move heaven and earth to get any information on his upcoming marriage. Everybody who works for the Galaxy has huge salaries, three times the going rate for their jobs. Even if the employees decide to move to a more traditional journalistic job, having the Galaxy on their resume doesn't look good. So most of the staff end up feeling like slaves, unhappy and stressed in their jobs but unable to give up the luxuries they have become accustomed to. That sounds like a downer, but Westlake tells the story with such humor and insight that the outrageous stories and the lengths they go to in order to get the stories keeps you reading.

This is Westlake's introduction to Trust Me On This:
A Word in Your Ear 
Although there is no newspaper anywhere in the United States like the Weekly Galaxy, as any alert reader will quickly realize, were there such a newspaper in actual real-life existence its activities would be stranger, harsher, and more outrageous than those described herein. The fictioneer labors under the constraint of plausibility; his inventions must stay within the capacity of the audience to accept and believe. God, of course, working with facts, faces no limitation. Were there a factual equivalent to the Weekly Galaxy, it would be much worse than the paper I have invented, its staff and ownership even more lost to all considerations of truth, taste, proportion, honor, morality or any shred of common humanity. Trust me.
I loved this book, and I hope to find a copy soon of the follow up to this book: Baby, Would I Lie? That book is set in Branson, Missouri and the country music world.


Publisher:  Mysterious Press, 1989. Orig. pub. 1988.
Length:     292 pages
Format:     Paperback
Setting:     Florida
Genre:      Mystery
Source:    Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2013.