Monday, March 30, 2015

Death Of A Liar - M.C. Beaton

Death Of A Liar
A Hamish Macbeth Mystery
M.C. Beaton
Grand Central Publishing

There’s a certain type of romantic person who thinks that living in the Scottish Highlands would be something out of a storybook.  It usually takes those people less than one winter to see the error of their ways, and return to more southern climes, where reading about the Highlands is just fine.  When Frank and Bessie Leigh move into the area, Police Sargent Hamish Macbeth figures them to be the romantic-notion sort.  They claim to be from London, and, although they’re living in a small village where everyone knows everyone, they don’t care to mix much, or discuss what they did before arriving.  Everyone figures they’ll be gone by the first snow.
They’re gone much sooner than that.  A child finds a foot sticking out of a newly-turned garden.  That’s Bessie.  Frank is found, miles away, his bound and gagged body in the trunk of his car.  It looks like he was tortured.  Not long after, Liz Bentley, a woman infamous for making up outrageous stories (then weeping when caught out) is discovered in her own back garden, dead.  Hamish believes that the crimes are linked, but there’s no hard evidence to tie them together.  That doesn’t mean it’s time to stop looking.
If you’re a fan of this long-running series, settle in for quite a treat.  Over the course of the series, there have been many recurring characters.  Many of them make appearances here; and there’s one fairly large change in store.  If you’re new to the series, everything is explained, and you have a huge backlist to enjoy.  The mystery this time seems a bit more labyrinthine that usual, but that just adds interesting layers to what is always a treat.  It’s really almost enough to drop in on Hamish and his sidekick, Dick, in their police station, and wander about the Highlands with them.  The fascinating mysteries almost feel like a bonus.
Rating: 8
March 2015
ISBN# 978-1-4555-0478-7 (hardcover)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Deep Winter - Samuel W. Gailey

Deep Winter
Samuel W. Gailey
Everyone in town knows Danny.  The owner of the laundromat gave him a job as a janitor/caretaker, complete with a room upstairs.  Danny may be slow, but he’s honest and scrupulous about his work.  After a near-drowning left him with brain damage, habit is his friend.  His only other real friend in town is Mindy.  He’s known her since they were children.  She was the only one who would sit with him at lunch; the only one who didn’t taunt and tease him.  Today is Mindy’s birthday.  Danny knows that because it’s his birthday, too.  Despite the frigid temperatures and the blizzard blowing in, Danny walks several miles to Mindy’s home to deliver her birthday present.

When he arrives, Mike Sokowski, the deputy sheriff is there with his eternal hanger-on, Carl.  Mike tells Danny to stay there while he goes for help.  When the sheriff arrives, it’s to find Danny, weeping, holding Mindy’s body in his arms.  It’s not a big stretch to assume that Danny had some unrequited love for Mindy, got rejected, and snapped.  Danny knows Mindy is dead.  And he knows that he’s going to be blamed for it.  He’s terrified, and escapes custody, running into the woods, with no clear goal in mind.  As the snow piles up and the temperatures drop ever lower, the search begins.

It’s hard to believe that this is a first novel.  Each chapter is told from a different character’s point of view.  The voices of each character are so clear and defined that this is never confusing.  The story takes place over roughly twenty-four hours.  In that one day, we learn about each participant; their pasts, their long-hidden hopes and fears, their true selves.  All of this happens within the construct of what is, essentially a chase novel.  It can be read on either level: as character studies, or as a fast-paced action novel.  That’s hard to get right, but this author makes it look easy.  Set aside some time before you start this one, because you won’t want to stop reading.  I’m really looking forward to the author’s future work.
Rating: 8
March 2015
ISBN# 978-0-14-218178-2 (trade paperback)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A First Date With Death - Diana Orgain

A First Date With Death
A Love Or Money Mystery
Diana Orgain
Berkley Prime Crime
We all know the basic setup: A single woman, looking for love; several (apparently) eligible bachelors; a bunch of over-the-top dates; and the one-by-one eliminations.  It’s all supposed to lead to romance.  The twist on this reality show is that there’s also a large cash prize.  And only half the men competing are really looking for love.  The other half are after the money.  The single woman doesn’t know who’s who until the end.   If she ends up with a guy looking for money, that guy takes the money and leaves her looking like a fool.
The single woman in question is Georgia Thornton.  She used to be a cop in San Francisco, until quite recently.  That didn’t end well.  She was engaged to a fellow officer who left her standing at the altar, so that didn’t end well, either.  Georgia’s best friend, Becca, is an assistant producer on the show, and recruited Georgia, figuring that either outcome (love or money) would be great for Georgia.
That’s why Georgia finds herself standing on the Golden Gate Bridge one early morning, being strapped into a harness, about to bungee jump over the Bay, with cameras recording it all.  She doesn’t want to do it, but there are contracts and obligations and a lot of pressure from everyone around her.  Something goes wrong on the first jump, and the unfortunate bachelor hits the Bay at full speed.  Everyone is horrified, but the show must go on, and in true Hollywood fashion, that first bachelor is replaced by Georgia’s ex, Paul, who will be investigating, while pretending to compete.
A reality show is a great idea as the backdrop of a new book series.  Everyone has at least a passing familiarity with the way reality shows work, so there’s not too much needed in the way of explanation on the ‘game’ side of things.  As the book progresses, readers find out which men are there for love and which for money.  And, by extension, who might want to commit murder, and why.  Although Paul claims he’s only there undercover, it’s clear from the outset that he wants to get back together with Georgia.  For readers who enjoy a bit of romance with your mystery, this series is tailor-made.
Readers who just like a good mystery will be pleased as well.  The background is interesting, the characters are realistic, and the personalities are diverse.  I especially enjoyed the very real friendship between Georgia and Becca, and Georgia's relationship with her dad.  While filming 'reality,' the layers of possible deception pile up quickly: what’s real; what’s real for the cameras; what’s real for investigative purposes; what’s real for purposes of the game.  The result is a fast-moving plot with several twists and a satisfying solution.  This is the first installment in what looks to be a very entertaining cozy mystery series.       
Rating: 7
March 2015
ISBN# 978-0-425-27168-1 (paperback)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Girl On The Train - Paula Hawkins

The Girl On The Train
Paula Hawkins
Riverhead Books
Rachel takes the train every day.  Every day, on her way to and from London, she watches for a row of houses whose back gardens face the tracks.  Every day, the commuter train stops at a signal near the houses, allowing Rachel a view of these homes and, sometimes, the people inside them.  In one of those houses lives a good-looking couple.  Rachel calls them Jess and Jason.  She sees them so often, she’s invented lives for them.  Their lives are full of friends and work; and they’re very happy together.  Rachel can tell, because Jason often seems very protective of Jess.

She can picture the inside of their house, because she used to live just a few houses down the road.  But that was two years ago, when she was married to Tom.  She never knew Jason and Jess; they moved in after her divorce and move to a single bedroom in the home of a friend from school.  Rachel takes a real sense of comfort in watching the happy couple, day to day.  Until the day that destroys her entire scenario.  As the train stops for a moment at the signal, Rachel sees Jess on the back terrace, kissing a man who is clearly not Jason. 
Soon after, the papers report that Megan (Rachel’s “Jess,”) has disappeared.  She vanished without a trace.  Of course, the husband is the primary suspect.  No one seems to know about the other man, the one Rachel saw.  Should she tell the police?  Will they believe her?  It was only a moment in passing, seen from a train.  But what if Megan is never found?  What if the husband is unjustly charged because no one else knows about this other man?  What if her information means nothing, and she ends up simply confusing the investigation?  Despite misgivings, Rachel makes her report to the police, and finds herself drawn ever more deeply into the mystery of the disappearance; and the lives of the people surrounding Megan and her husband.
Each character reports events from her unique point of view.  Each one gives emphasis and meaning to each event or encounter based on her personal feelings.  As we all do, every day.  Clearly, some interpretations are more accurate than others.  Some are simple mistakes.  Some are colored by intense emotion; some are blurred or eradicated by alcohol.  Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s former husband, Tom, contributes her own version of events, understandably colored by her own feelings about Rachel.  It’s a testament to this author’s skill that each person comes off as flawed (some more deeply than others) but completely human.  Here, presented in clear prose, is the difference between people in public, and people behind closed doors.  For some, there may be no real difference.  For others, the differences can be profound.
The book is written in parallel chronological order, with different sections narrated by different characters.  Rachel’s story begins a few days before she sees the strange man from the train.  Megan’s story begins roughly a year before that time.  Far from being confusing, I found that the device of changing points-of-view (and time) only made me more eager to keep turning the pages.  The reading experience here is much different than the usual straightforward timeline and all the more exciting for it.   By the time Megan’s narrative catches up with the present, the truth of events becomes clear to the reader.  Until then, it’s very much a mystery of motives and flawed memories. 
Rating: 9
January 2015
ISBN# 978-1-59463-366-9 (hardcover)