Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Watchers - Jon Steele

The Watchers
The Angelus Trilogy, Book One
Jon Steele

There are hundreds of lines of causality.  It happens every moment of every day, all around us.  This moment creates circumstances that lead to the next moment. All of them, taken together, lead to an event in the next week or month or century.  Hundreds or thousands of tiny moments, all taken in sequence, lead to a meeting of three people in the Lausanne Cathedral.  Jay Harper, an investigator with his own issues, is in Switzerland working for the Olympic Committee.  Katherine Taylor, a transplanted American, is working as a high-priced prostitute.  And Marc Rochat is le guet: he calls the hour from the belfry of the Cathedral, as someone has done every night for centuries on end. 
It seems highly unlikely that these three should ever meet.  A good deal of the story is devoted to the time before their meeting.  All those bits of causality that may seem meaningless at the time, but that serve to bring them together for a serious event.  Marc, with his twisted leg, small stature, and limited intellectual capacity (he explains, “There was an accident when I was born.”) takes the duty of watching over Lausanne and its people very seriously.  He believes in what he does, and he knows that someday, a lost angel will come to the Cathedral, needing his help.  He’s very right about that.
This is the first in a trilogy, but is a complete story in itself.  I fell in love with Marc and his life in the Cathedral and the town.  Days after finishing the book, I still think about it (and him.)  Jay’s story is far different, and much more complicated in many ways.  Eventually we realize, along with him, that he really doesn’t remember much about his life before the call that brought him from London to Lausanne.  We make his journey with him, and the story is much the better for it.

The initial pages, a prologue of sorts, set the mood for everything that follows.  There’s a quiet, but ever-present tension that underlies everything that happens, even when it’s a ‘day in the life’ piece of narrative.  This quiet tension perfectly complements the serene setting, a place one character likens to living in a fairy tale.  Each time I opened the book, I fell under its spell again.  The last hundred or so pages kept me riveted long past bedtime, but there was absolutely no possibility of putting the book down at that point.  I’m quite glad that the second book is waiting for me.  While this story is complete, there are intimations of even bigger things to come.

Rating: 9 ½
April 2013
ISBN# 978-0-451-41679-7 (paperback)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Buried In Bargains - Josie Belle

Buried In Bargains
A Good Buy Girls Mystery
Josie Belle
Berkley Prime Crime
It’s Christmastime for the Good Buy Girls, and that means one thing: a 75% off sale on last year’s wrapping paper at the stationery store.  The four friends meet up to hit the sale to stock Maggie Gerber’s new shop with sale-priced gift wrap.  Joining them is Laura, Maggie’s daughter, home from college on break.  Laura also helps her mom at the shop, which experiences a huge surge in sales when a local resident decides to throw a Christmas formal ball. 
Laura steps forward to befriend Diane Jenkins, a painfully shy girl just hired at the deli, operated by Michael and Joanne Claramotta.  Joanne, largely pregnant with her first and much-anticipated child, is leery of the young blonde hired by her husband.  Having already been through this, and having known the couple since grade school, her friends wisely counsel her to write off her feelings to hormones.  It’s impossible to write off the scene that Maggie and Joanne find at the deli early one morning.  Michael, unconscious in a pool of blood; and Diane, nearby, strangled to death. 
The police first suspect Michael, although they admit it would be hard to come up with a scenario that fits the facts.  The bigger problem is: there’s no record of Diane at the deli.  Michael paid her in cash and didn’t even have an application on file.  Her apartment is sparsely furnished and looks more like a hotel than a home.  And, even worse, Maggie accidentally witnessed a very suspicious discussion between Michael and Diane at the ball. 
This is the third entry in the series (50% OFF MURDER, and A DEAL TO DIE FOR) and, in my opinion, it’s far and away the best yet.  The murder doesn’t happen for quite a while, which is usually a bone of contention for me.  I barely even noticed.  This time, the first part of the novel is filled with very realistic people dealing with very realistic ups and downs in life.  The characters have found their grooves, and I would very much like to visit this town and hang out with all of them.  When the murder comes, it’s all the more shocking.  The investigation (and the worry about whether Michael will recover or not) is perfectly paced, never dragging.  The outcome feels real to me, and though some of the final action occurs ‘off-stage,’ that’s the way it should be in a cozy mystery.  Here’s hoping we see more of the Good Buy Girls.

Rating: 8
October 2013
ISBN# 978-0-425-25230-7 (paperback)

Monday, October 07, 2013

Chili Con Carnage - Kylie Logan

Chili Con Carnage
A Chili Cook-Off Mystery
Kylie Logan
Berkley Prime Crime

Maxie Pierce is already having a bad day.  Her dad, Texas Jack Pierce, famed purveyor of chili and spices, is missing.  She’s travelling around in his RV with her half-sister, Sylvia, with whom she shares a love/hate relationship, trying to keep Jack’s business afloat.  It almost goes without saying that she’s just out of a disastrous relationship.  And she’s dressed in a ridiculous costume as the Chili Chick.  When the screaming woman arrives, gunning (possibly literally, it’s hard to tell) for Maxie because she went out with Roberto last night, it’s just the cherry on the top of her day.  At that moment, she’s glad of the identity-shielding costume.

Of course, Sylvia wants to know what’s up with Roberto, having told Maxie to stay away from him.  Maxie had one terrible date with him, and is finished with him.  But, as sisters so, Sylvia keeps on her about it.  A distraction arrives in the personage of Carter Donnelly, celebrity chef.  He’s there with a camera crew, looking for “Americana” to film for his new series.  Maxie isn’t too impressed, but Sylvia (who harbors hopes of publishing a cookbook) definitely it.  All bets are off, though, when a dead body falls out of Carter’s RV, landing on Maxie.  It’s Roberto.  Clearly, the sisters aren’t the only two who didn’t like him.

Maxie sets out to find the killer, figuring she has a right to know the truth, since the body landed on her.  Unfortunately, she’s not every good at the whole ‘subtle’ thing when asking questions.  I found Maxie to be a bit of an acquired taste, but, in the end, I found myself rooting for her.  Especially when she drops all the half-sibling rivalry the instant the police arrive to arrest Sylvia for the murder.  Now Maxie has a concrete reason to find out what happened with Roberto.  The plot is nicely twisty and the conclusion feels pretty organic.  The question of Jack’s whereabouts is left unanswered, clearly to be tied up in a subsequent book.  As the first in a series, this is a solid mystery, introducing readers to an interesting setting and a unique cast of characters.

Rating: 7
October 2013
ISBN# 978-0-425-26241-2 (paperback)

Saturday, October 05, 2013

In The House Of The Wicked - Thomas E. Sniegoski

In The House Of The Wicked
A Remy Chandler Novel
Thomas E. Sniegoski
Urban Fantasy

Note: There are some spoilers here if you haven’t read the books leading up to this one.  My advice is to seek out A KISS BEFORE THE APOCALYPSE, DANCING ON THE HEAD OF A PIN, WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD, and A HUNDRED WORDS FOR HATE just for the sheer pleasure of reading a well-crafted fantasy series. 

Recent events have forced Remy Chandler, outwardly a PI living and working in Boston, to an unavoidable conclusion.  It’s time now for him to reconcile the two sides of his nature; his human self and his angelic self.  Remy was once Remiel of the host Seraphim.  He’s been living on Earth for centuries and trying to suppress his angelic nature.  It’s time to face the fact that, to survive in any form, these two ‘sides’ of himself must merge.  It’s not as easy as it sounds.  The Seraphim was a fierce warrior and much given to smiting those who deserve it.  The human side of Remy would like to keep that sort of thing to a minimum.

As a human, Remy met Ashley Berg when she was five and her family moved into his neighborhood.  The two bonded over an escaped cat, and have been friends since that time.  Ashley often takes care of Marlow, Remy’s Black Lab, when Remy is unavailable.  It comes as a shock to hear that Ashley is missing.  She’s just moved away to attend college, and at first Remy wants to believe that this is simply a young woman tasting freedom and growing lax about calling her parents.  When the local police find Ashley’s car, with traces of blood inside, he knows it’s serious.  Following her trail, he realizes that not only has she been kidnapped, but that the kidnapper is a magick user who wants to get Remy’s attention.  He’s succeeded.
This installment of the series takes place both on Earth and in a sort of space between worlds.  It’s a unique and alien landscape, but the author builds it in such a way that it makes perfect internal sense.  There are some new characters introduced here, and some longstanding characters return.  Of the latter, the most poignant return is homicide detective Steven Mulvehill, a friend to Remy, who has seen far too much of Remiel’s reality than he can cope with easily.  His arc in this story is, perhaps, a small part of the whole, but for longtime readers, it is hugely important.

The search for Ashley is what draws Remy in, but it’s the sorcerer behind the plot that keeps him digging.  The roots of this story stretch back into the past, and deal with a group of magick users who accessed powers far beyond their ability to control.  Each one is changed forever by the exposure to this power, and they seem to believe that the last one standing will inherit the earth.  It seems far more likely that they’ll destroy it.  The battle here is huge, and the results are equally enormous.  By the end of the story, it looks like the entire world may have changed.  It’s a brave thing to do with a story, and I’m eager to see what comes next.
Rating: 8 ½
August 2012
ISBN# 978-0-451-46456-9 (trade paperback)