Archive for the ‘Mystery’ Category

A Touch of Frost an enjoyable mystery

March 24th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Crime, Fiction, Kelly, Mystery, Uncategorized

Netflix recommended the BAFTA-winning TV show A Touch of Frost to me, and so I watched the first episode. Since I enjoy British police procedurals I checked the first novel of the Frost series out of the library.

Frost at Christmas rehashes the same mystery as the pilot of the TV show, although the TV show made several changes. The core mysteries are still the same. Eight-year-old Tracey disappears after leaving Sunday school. While searching for Tracey, police finds the remains of a skeleton tied to a bank robbery from 1961.

The multiple storylines—the missing child and the cold bank robbery—are mixed up with other, less-drawn cases that Frost inadvertently solves, like the stolen electronic equipment. Frost calls himself inefficient and bumbling, and sometimes lets other detectives take credit for his work. Yet he’s the one who ultimately sheds light on multiple crimes, and he’s warm-hearted and humorous. His character can be coarse and makes crude remarks at inopportune times, but he also works long hours and clearly cares about solving cases. He’s likable and sympathetic. I can see why this novel was picked up as a TV series . . . that ran for eighteen years.

Frost has a brand new Detective Constable under his wing, the newly promoted Clive Barnard who happens to be the nephew of a police bigwig, and the juxtaposition of the two makes an entertaining contrast. Barnard isn’t as likable as Frost, but as he also wants justice he makes a nice counterpart. None of the characters—Tracey’s prostitute mother, the drunk homeless man who is sure the police stole a quid from him—feel like caricatures.

Frost in Winter is a little grittier than a cozy, but it’s not graphic or overly violent by any means. It should appeal to a wide range of mystery and crime fans.

Title: Frost At Christmas
Author: R. D. Wingfield
Source: Public Library
Read: March 2011

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Emma Graham returns in Fadeaway Girl

February 20th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Fiction, Kelly, Mystery

Fadeaway GirlA while back, I was talking with a friend about novels for adults with young protagonists. We both thought of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird as an example, but I realize now I should have thought of Emma Graham. Martha Grimes’ series featuring Emma (Hotel Paradise, Cold Flat Junction, Belle Ruin) uses a child’s perspective to illuminate an adult world.

Twelve-year Emma lives in a decaying hotel whose better days are long gone. She too looks toward the past, solving mysteries that have long since faded into the background. Emma burrows into people’s lives, getting them to reminisce over certain events. She fills in the blanks and by listening to multiple views of people and situations, manages to find the true story.

If you haven’t read the three previous novels in this series, then don’t read Fadeaway Girl until you’ve had a chance to pick up the other three novels. This novel heavily relies on Emma’s discoveries and events from the past three books, as well as imagery (e.g. the waitresses, an element from Emma’s past that tied in well earlier in the series).

Emma’s voice can sound too old for a twelve year old, like when she thinks, “There were times I truly marveled at the size of the Hotel Paradise grounds, as if this were a little world all of its own, and I guess in many ways it was. I wondered if I would still marvel when I was old, like thirty or thirty-five, or if the marveling was just a kid’s thing.” I’m not sure a twelve year old would really analyze about how she “marvels” at things. But overall it works, and Grimes’ descriptions and insight can be lyrical without slowing down the pace of the story.

Some of Emma’s antics, specifically putting spicy food in Miss Bertha’s food, felt a little tired in Belle Ruin, and I wish Grimes would have thought of new trouble for Emma to cause in Fadeaway Girl. Emma’s mother, while distant and seemingly uninvolved in her daughter’s life, should have figured out by now that Emma is purposely terrorizing an elderly client.

If you like literary mystery this is a good series for you. Just be sure to start at the beginning with Hotel Paradise!

Read by: Kelly

Title: Fadeaway Girl
Author: Martha Grimes
Read: February 2011
Source: Public Library

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Double review: Changeless and Blameless by Gail Carriger

February 11th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Fantasy, Fiction, Kelly, Mystery

ChangelessFor years, I would have said the Sookie Stackhouse series were my guilty-pleasure reads, but I’d know I’d say the Parasol Protectorate/Alexia Tarabotti series has taken the Southern Vampire series place on my bookshelf. These novels are simply fun: witty, entertaining. The novels are full of eccentric characters, and the supporting cast around Alexia makes the novels. Plus the series is a (gentle) parody of historical novels . . . with steampunk elements. And werewolves. And vampires. What’s not to like?

As I said in my review of Soulless, I can’t let myself contemplate some of the ins and outs of Alexia being “soulless”, as logically it doesn’t always hold up. The world of these books, however, generally holds up.

The storyline of Blameless is dependent upon Changeless, and so in some ways the books have one long story arc although a smaller mystery is resolved in each novel. Carriger clearly laid the groundwork for more novels and it will interesting to see how the series plays out.

BlamelessRead by: Kelly

Title: Blameless
Title: Changeless
Author: Gail Carriger
Date Read: February 2011
Source: Public Library

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Jim Thompson’s The Grifters

February 8th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Crime, Fiction, Kelly

GriftersJim Thompson focuses on the dark side of life in The Grifters. All three major characters are con artists, and at first, they don’t know the others are also in the game. Their greed and perverse love permeate the novel.

After reading the Red Riding Quartet, this novel didn’t seem shockingly dark. The Grifters showcases bad people doing unforgivable acts. Which just doesn’t mean the novel isn’t dark as disturbing, just that the noir genre has evolved since Thompson wrote in the 1950s.

Thompson’s writing is fearless, and I enjoyed the twist at the end. Roy Dillon has a chance at redemption and a real job, but his past won’t relinquish him. This novel is a great choice for fans of pulp novels, and authors such as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Patricia Highsmith.

Read by: Kelly

Title: The Grifters
Author: Jim Thompson
Read: February 2011
Source: Public Library

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Åsa Larsson’s Sun Storm

February 5th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Award-Winning, Crime, Fiction

Sun StormReading Swedish crime fiction makes me wonder: is Sweden really so full of murder and evilness? Or do the dark, cold winter days and nights encourage sinister novels focused on the dark area of the human psyche?

Sun Storm, winner of Sweden’s Best First Crime Novel Award, deals with religion, hypocrisy, abuse, mental illness, and perhaps redemption over the course of the story. It’s setting of Kiruna, the northernmost city in Sweden, is important. Its remoteness and isolation are integral to the story.

The story starts off when charismatic religious figure Viktor Strandgard is brutally murdered in the revivalist church he created, The Source of All Our Strength. Rebecca Martinsson returns to Kiruna, her hometown, to support Viktor’s sister. The reader slowly learns Rebecca’s past as she unravels the truth and protects Sanna’s children from multiple forms of evil. Pregnant inspector Anna-Maria, her counterpart Sven-Erik, and a blow-hard Assistant Chief Prosecutor round out the cast.

Fans of Henning Mankell or Stieg Larsson’s The Millennium Trilogy will appreciate Sun Storm.

Read by: Kelly

Title: Sun Storm (published as The Savage Alter in the UK)
Author: Åsa Larsson
Read: February 2011
Source: Public Library

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1983 and Red Riding Quartet Wrap-up

January 23rd, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Crime, Fiction

David Peace's1983It’s impossible to talk about David Peace’s 1983 without putting into context as the final installment of the Red Riding Quartet. The first three novels in the quartet (1974, 1977, and 1980) tell the stories of both the Yorkshire Ripper and a child rapist/murderer. Each novel is told from different viewpoints from the novels before. In 1983, the story is told through three viewpoints: Maurice Jobson, high ranking police officer, John Piggott, Lawyer, and BJ, male prostitute. These three have the perspective to shed partial light on the mysteries that permeate the novels.

Some of the shadowy characters from the first three books are pulled somewhat into focus in the final installment, such as Reverend Laws, whom I assume is an unrecognized serial killer who preys on the weak. The police in this series aren’t much better, physically abusing suspects to force confessions so they can pin crimes on the innocent. Arguably the only people in the series who are innocent—the children—are victimized by the lack of true justice, as it allows abusers to walk free and the wrongfully accused to molder in jail.

The quartet shows a murky and unclear world with flawed, unlikable, and corrupt people. People who are somewhat decent and try to get to the center of the corruption or decay end up ruined.

Peace is purposefully repetitive, with whole passages repeated verbatim between both novels and within a single passage. This creates a mood and ambiance within the novel, even if it doesn’t always push the plot forward. But that’s okay, since atmosphere is at least as important as the plot in this dense and dark series. He also uses run-on sentences, sometimes lasting over a page, in interesting ways.

1983 didn’t bring about a full resolution of the various plotlines, although key elements, such as the identity (or identities) of the child rapist/murderer were resolved. There are lots of loose ends in this series, and I assume this by authorial intent. For example:

I assume Eddie Dunford died at the end of 1974, but it’s never confirmed in the text. Several people are clearly haunted by his memory, but if it’s because he died or went crazy, disappeared, etc is never shown.  Dunford drives a Viva throughout 1974, and there’s a mysterious old Viva in 1983. Does it belong to Leonard Marsh, son of a boogeyman, or is the Viva meant to imply Dunford is still there?  Is it an echo and/or ghost from the past?

The Red Riding Quartet was adapted into a film trilogy, and I’ll have to see how the filmmakers interpreted some of Peace’s more ambivalent plot lines, and how they summed up the stories. I’ll be interested in whether or not they left plot lines dangling, or if they tied the series up neatly with a little bow. The Red Riding Quartet isn’t unlike real life. For example, look at the Kyron Harmon case in Oregon. A young child disappears from school, and nine months or so later, has yet to be found. No arrests have been made. Someone out there knows the truth, but the story isn’t resolved, and might never be.

I’d definitely recommend this series to people that enjoy crime noir and atmospheric novels, with the caveat that it’s a dark, brutal, and violent series with an open ended conclusion. It’s not going to leave you happy at the end, but it will make you think.

Reviewed by: Kelly

Title: 1983
Author: David Peace
Read: January 2011
Source: Public Library

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1980 by David Peace

January 9th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Crime, Fiction, Kelly

1980 by David Peace1980 surprised me in one way: the protagonist, Peter Hunter, is likable. He’s not perfect, but he’s the closest to be a good guy yet in the Red Riding Quartet.

The novel begins when Hunter, a “clean” cop, is brought in from Manchester to review the Yorkshire Ripper case and offer a new perspective. He’s distrusted from the start, as he’s been brought to Yorkshire before to investigate police officers.

Like everyone who’s come into contact with the murders in this series, he’s caught into the tangled web of Yorkshire police corruption, and his life crumbles around him.  Meanwhile, the Yorkshire Ripper still lurks in the shadows, preying upon women.

1980 clarifies a few plot points brought up in the previous novels, and shows how the past is misinterpreted, hidden, or covered up with seemingly malicious intent. Like the rest of the series, the novel’s filled of imagery of rot and decay, and full of racism, sexism, corruption, police brutality, and sexual violence towards women.

The writing moves along at a furious pace, and passages and sentences are repeated, like echoes. I look forward to the final installment of this series—1983—and am interested to see how the quartet will be pulled together. (For example, maybe I’ll find out if Eddie Dunford from 1974 is actually dead.)

Reviewed by: Kelly

Novel: 1980
Author: David Peace
Read: January 2011
Source: Public Library

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David Peace’s 1977: even more dark and brutal than 1974

January 3rd, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Crime, Kelly, Mystery

1977From 1975 to 1981, the Yorkshire Ripper preyed upon women, murdering thirteen and injuring seven. While the majority of his victims were prostitutes, some were ‘ordinary’ women with regular jobs and lives. One murder victim was just sixteen years old.

David Peace’s 1977 is a fictionalized account of the hunt for the real life serial killer. The novel follows two characters: a slightly corrupt cop, and a jaded journalist. Both characters are present in the first novel in the Red Riding Quartet, 1974, although this novel brings them into focus.

Jack Whitehead, the journalist, is haunted by crimes he’s covered, and by the actions of his coworker Eddie from the first novel. Detective Sergeant Bob Fraser seemed like he was on the up-and-up in the first novel, so either the corruption of his fellow police officers has rubbed off on him, or he was always morally ambiguous. Both make questionable moral judgments throughout the novel, with surprising consequences.

Like its predecessor, 1977 has unresolved plot threads that will hopefully be tied up in the final two books of Red Riding Quartet.

On a side note, the real life Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, is in Broadmoor psychiatric hospital and has challenged his life sentence in court:

Sutcliffe was caught 30 years ago, and the young journalist who “unmasked” Sutcliffe has written about the experience:

Reviewed by: Kelly

Book: 1977
Author: David Peace
Read: January, 2011
Source: Public Library

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It was a dark and violent noir: 1974 by David Peace

January 2nd, 2011    Posted in Crime, Fiction, Kelly, Mystery

It’s Friday the 13tDavid Peace's 1974h, December 1974, and ten year old Clare Kemplay disappeared on her way home from school. Junior crime reporter Eddie Dunford attends the police press conference, eager for his first byline, even though his father’s funeral is in two hours.

Anti-hero Dunford ties Clare’s disappearance to the kidnappings of two girls in neighboring counties. Eventually he ends up on the wrong side of both the corrupt local police and the puppet-masters of his community, e.g. the business moguls and/or the Yorkshire mafia, depending upon how you view them.

1974 is filled with unsympathetic characters, and with ugly people doing bad things. There were a few plot details I didn’t fully understand. Did police burn down the camp because they wanted to pin Clare’s kidnapping on the gypsies? Or were they clearing the ground for developers? Or both? Neither?

The story relies on dialogue to tell the story in addition to terse, fast prose. Luckily the dialogue is strong. The women of the novel, however, aren’t strong—they’re expendable. They’re also memorable, from poor Clare with swan wings sewn onto her back to the mother of another missing girl that Dunford may or may not love.

The convoluted ending left me scratching my head. 1974 is the first novel in the Red Riding Quartet. Hopefully the unresolved plotlines will be cleared up in later books.

Reviewed by: Kelly

Book: 1974
Author: David Peace
Read: December 2010
Source: Public Library

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Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

December 28th, 2010    Posted in Fiction, Kelly, Mystery

The Big SleepWhile reading The Big Sleep, I kept trying to put the novel into its historical place. How decadent were the General’s daughters? How would readers in the 1940s react to the characters? Eventually I gave up and just enjoyed the descriptions, one-liners, and double-crosses that fill the novel.

Two of my favorite one-liners from the novel:

–  I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and didn’t care who knew it.

– It seemed like a nice neighborhood to have bad habits in.

After finishing The Big Sleep, it took me a few minutes to realize I never figured out who killed the chauffeur. Evidently I’m not the only person to miss that detail, as Raymond Carver did as well and he dropped that storyline. As I work towards my fifty-two books in one year challenge for 2011, I’ll have to check out another Philip Marlowe novel, as this novel was an enjoyable jump into hard-boiled detective fiction.

Reviewed by: Kelly

Book: The Big Sleep
Author: Raymond Chandler
Read: November 2010
Source: Library

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