Monday, November 21, 2011

Cemetery Girl - David Bell

Cemetery Girl
David Bell
New American Library

Crime Fiction

Four years ago, when she was only twelve, Caitlin disappeared.  She went out to walk the dog in the park that borders a cemetery near her home.  The dog came home, but Caitlin didn’t.  The police investigated, but seemed to suspect that she might have run away.  Her parents, Tom and Abby, were left to pick up the pieces of what had been their life together.  As is often the case, a rift opened in the marriage and only got wider and deeper over time.  Abby feels that it’s time to move on, to “turn the page” in life, regarding Caitlin.  Tom disagrees; feeling that this is tantamount to giving up hope on their only daughter.

During the four years, Tom continued to post flyers with age-progressed photos.  He’s worked with a lawyer and advocate for victims of crime.  He’s followed every lead and listened to every theory.  He contacts the police with every lead.  Finally, a woman comes forward with a story of seeing Caitlin.  According to her, Caitlin has been in the area the entire time.  Part of Tom refuses to believe that, but he would do anything, go anywhere, to get her home.  When that day comes – when the police deliver Caitlin back to her parents – she’s not just four years older.  She’s like a different person.  Tom thought that simply having her back alive would be enough.  Now that it’s happened, he realizes that simply having her isn’t enough.  He wants to know “what happened” during those four years.

This is a difficult book to read, for multiple reasons.  First, and most obviously, because it involves a child.  Each parent has a completely different point of view, and neither one is wrong.  Abby finds comfort in her church; Tom occupies himself with the search.  Abby wants to place a grave marker as a sign of closure.  Tom hates the idea, since it seems like admitting defeat.  Abby has the backing of her pastor; Tom has the backing of his half-brother, who was himself a suspect in Caitlin’s disappearance.  Once Caitlin is home, Tom still wants to know the truth.  Abby wants to put it all behind them.  They both have their child's best interest at heart, but cannot find a middle ground.

Of course, as the reader sees long before Tom does, that truth is going to come at a steep price.  There’s no good answer to why the child was missing for four years.  It’s going to involve some kind of violence.  But Tom won’t let it go.  Even when the police and everyone around him want him to, he continues his quest.  Even when Caitlin, a virtual stranger now, demands that he not ask her about her time away, he can’t help himself.  The author tells the story through Tom’s eyes, and while he’s not infallible, he seems like a living, breathing person with a past, hopes for a future, and an almost impossible present.  There are no easy answers, and not much possibility of a happy ending here.  Still, it is a compelling read for those who enjoy crime fiction.  I missed out on some sleep just to find out “what happened.”

Rating: 9
October 2011
ISBN# 978-0-451-23467-4 (trade paperback)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Success Secrest of Sherlock Holmes - David Acord

Success Secrets Of Sherlock Holmes
Life Lessons from the Master Detective
David Acord
As the author states, up front, you don’t need to know anything at all about Sherlock Holmes in order to read or understand this book.  Which begs the question: why would you read the book if you didn’t know Holmes?  But that’s a small quibble, I suppose, really.  Just something I couldn’t help wondering.
This book takes the major traits of Sherlock Holmes (and some of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, his creator) and uses them as examples of how to succeed in life.  There are chapters devoted to such things as attention to detail, finding your passion in life, and taking credit where credit is due.  All characteristics well known to fans of Holmes.

For fans, this is an interesting way to look at Holmes; as a sort of Successful Person Template.  There are a few quotes and excerpts from various stories, and a couple of spoilers for the uninitiated.  Whatever your interest, this is a very fast read.  Chapters can be read out of order, since they’re all basically stand-alone concepts.  I’m honestly not a huge fan of self-help books, but I do love Holmes and his partner, Watson.  If you’re a fan and someone looking to improve some aspect of your life, it’s worth a look.  And if you’re not yet a fan, and this leads you to read some of the best detective fiction ever written, so much the better.
Rating: 5
November 2011
ISBN# 978-0-399-53698-4 (trade paperback)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

At The End Of The Road - Grant Jerkins

At The End Of The Road
Grant Jerkins
Berkley Prime Crime

Crime Fiction

It all starts with an innocent mistake: a ten-year-old boy, riding his bike down the country road near his home, watching the plume of dust that rises behind him.  Coming the other way is a young woman, a little bit late, driving a little too fast, who sees the boy only at the last moment.  She’s able to swerve enough to miss him.  Both are completely shocked.  She’s injured and in need of help; he’s a terrified child with absolutely no idea of what to do about it.

The boy walks up his driveway to his home and, not knowing how to tell his mother what happened, he simply waits for the bloody woman from the car to knock on the front door.  But she doesn’t.  He’s sure she followed him up the driveway.  When he ventures out later, there’s no car and no woman.  As only a child could do, he mostly convinces himself that it was some kind of dream.  It almost works, until a deputy arrives at the door, looking for a missing woman.

This amazing novel is the story of the summer of 1976, when Kyle Edwards turned ten and narrowly avoided what would have been a fatal accident.  It’s also the story of how that one event ripples outward until it seeps into the lives of everyone along that road, changing them in fundamental ways.  In some ways, it’s a coming-of-age story.  It’s the last summer of innocence before Kyle realizes that evil things can happen, and to him; before he sees that even his family can be divided by divorce.  There are scenes that play out in every family, as his two older brothers attempt to separate themselves from the younger Kyle.  Playing in the cornfield next to the house with Grace, his seven-year-old sister who wants nothing so much as to be Wonder Woman and Kyle’s best friend.  Times of resenting being forced to play with his little sister, and times of breathtaking sweetness when they understand each other like no one else ever could.

Part of being a child is the belief in fairy tales.  Mama says to be good or Soap Sally (a local bogeyman) will get you.  When the neighbor across the road, the man who was a church deacon, has a stroke and comes home in an electric wheelchair, it’s reasonable – to a kid – to think he’s some kind of monster, too.  He’s different, therefore scary.  Each little event dovetails into the next, just as in life.  Once you get a good piece down the road, you may look back and wonder at how you started at A and ended up at G.  This novel, by an incredibly talented author, is about filling in just want happened between points A and G, and continues, in some cases on to point Z.  Not a good choice for cozy fans, obviously, but readers who can take a dark, rather bleak look at events will find a story that allows you to inhabit its expertly-drawn world, observing how one action can touch the lives of many.  My best advice before you begin reading is to get comfortable.  I read this in one sitting, but I’m sure I’ll be thinking and talking about it for days.

Rating: 9
November 2011
ISBN# 978-0-425-24334-3 (trade paperback)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hickory Smoked Homicide - Riley Adams

Hickory Smoked Homicide
A Memphis BBQ Mystery
Riley Adams
Berkley Prime Crime


It seems that almost everyone who knew her had a reason to want Tristan Pembroke dead.  She was running the family business into the ground, angering her sister.  As a pageant coach and judge, she was apparently known to be biased and dealing in ‘insider information.’  (Pageants are serious business in Memphis.)  She had an affair with a married man, then dumped him, angering both the man and his wife.  She was verbally and emotionally abusive to her only daughter, Steffi.  And she’d commissioned a portrait of herself, only to refuse to pay for it.
The painter was Sara, daughter-in-law to Lulu Taylor, the owner of Aunt Pat’s, a bbq restaurant and local institution.  When Tristan ends up dead at the end of her charity art auction event, Sara is the most likely suspect.  The two women had a fairly public to-do about the portrait, after all.  But Lulu knows that Sara had nothing to do with it.  The problem is, there were so many people there that night, and so many of them had a reason to kill Tristan, that it’s hard pick out just one.  The police seem to be having the same problem, so, with the assistance of her good friend, Cherry, Lulu decides to investigate another murder.
This is the third in this entertaining series, following DELICIOUS AND SUSPICIOUS and FINGER LICKIN’ DEAD.  It’s probably the most well-crafted and convoluted of the plots so far, which makes it the most interesting.  Many different credible suspects from several different walks of life make for a lively mystery.  Many regular characters appear, as well, making Lulu’s corner of Memphis feel a lot like a small town. Obviously, a huge part of Southern culture is based around food, so there’s a lot of eating and several recipes included at the end.

Rating: 7 ½
November 2011
ISBN# 978-0-425-24460-9

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Blood Rules - Christine Cody

Blood Rules
Christine Cody

Urban Fantasy/Paranormal

Note: If you haven’t read the first book in this great trilogy, BLOODLANDS, this review contains some serious, but unavoidable, spoilers.  Do yourself a huge favor and read the first book before proceeding here.

This second installment picks up roughly two months after the events of the first book.  By this time, Mariah and the rest of her neighbors have found a new homestead.  They managed to defeat Stamp, a former Shredder, in their last home, but they know that men like him will never stop.  They know that, at some point, he’ll be back to wipe them out, or die trying.  Because Shredders, monster-killers, never stop.

The community faces a new threat now.  Mariah continues to lose control over her were form, and even the peace that Gabriel, a vampire, passes through their shared link is beginning to lose effect.  In desperation and with the tacit approval of the group (whose very existence is constantly threatened by Mariah’s problems) Mariah decides to leave the new homestead and head for the hubs in search of a cure.  This rumored, almost mythical, cure may not even exist, but she feels that she must do everything she can to find it.  Not only for herself, but for her neighbors.  Gabriel accompanies her, partly out of a sense of duty, but also with a cautious hope than any cure for Mariah might affect him, too.
Sometimes, the second book of a trilogy serves only as a way to get the characters from the Big Conflict A to Big Conflict B.  Not this time.  This second installment is at least as good as the first, and possibly better.  Watching Mariah and Gabriel travel through the New Badlands into outposts and finally a hub, the reader gets an expanded sense of the world.  While the story is set in a dystopian future, there are plenty of aspects of the world that are recognizable projections of society today.
The author’s world-building skills are undeniable.  This is a multi-faceted society that resulted from natural and economic disasters.  Members of each social ‘layer’ have concrete reasons for acting as they do.  There are hard choices, and no clear answer, but each solution is, ultimately, understandable.  Layer this realistic society with were-creatures and vampires and various other monsters, and you’ve got a post-apocalyptic Western action paranormal urban fantasy that’s as difficult to put down as it is to define.
Rating: 8
September 2011
ISBN# 978-0-441-02076-8